How to Become
a Paralegal

Best Education Tracks, Key Skills, and Top Certifications

Do you want to work in a law firm and frequent the courtrooms without having to endure years of law school? Then perhaps you should consider a certified paralegal career. Becoming a paralegal to lawyers and attorneys gives you a firsthand insight into how the legal system works despite not being able to practice law.

In this guide, you will find all of the information you’ll need to become a paralegal. This includes the various paralegal education programs you can take and certifications you can earn to get you working in no time.

What Is a Paralegal?

A paralegal is someone qualified to work under the watchful supervision of a lawyer to perform specific legal tasks, according to the American Bar Association (ABA).

As a paralegal, you would essentially be the go-to for legal assistance and carrying out other important legal legwork. This means using your paralegal knowledge and skills to conduct legal research, analyze legal documents and create a summary report, draft legal correspondence and pleadings.

Paralegals may also choose to specialize in different areas of law, such as personal injury or medical law.

What Type of School Should You
Attend to Become a Paralegal?

One of the best parts of pursuing a paralegal career is the lack of rigid education requirements. Since paralegals don’t practice law, most states do not require specific education credentials among aspiring paralegals. That said, be sure to check if this is the case in your state before planning your career path.

You can become a paralegal right out of high school if a firm decides to take a chance on you. Note, however, that it can be an uphill battle especially if you do not have the necessary knowledge or experience to thrive in the role. If you’d like to further your paralegal knowledge and stand out in the job market, consider the paralegal education tracks below.

Best Paralegal Education Tracks

Because there’s no concrete path to becoming a paralegal, there are many education tracks you can follow. You can enroll in a paralegal program and earn a bachelor’s degree. You can pick and choose a few classes from a community college. You can even just do your own legal research before applying for a job.

1

Vocational School or Trade School

There are hundreds of vocational schools or trade schools in the United States. Many of these schools offer certificates or diplomas for paralegal studies, which can often be obtained easier than college degrees.

Although a non-traditional path, the appeal of trade schools lies in their affordability and shorter program duration. Trade schools are typically much less expensive and take less time to complete than a traditional college education.

2

Community College

If you want a college degree but aren’t sold on a four-year plan, you can attend a community college instead. This is a great way to gain basic paralegal education without committing to an expensive bachelor’s degree or graduate degree program.

Not only are community colleges typically cheaper than traditional universities, but they are also easier to be accepted into. If you have a low high school GPA or were unable to graduate high school, community colleges are great options to begin your paralegal education.

3

Paralegal Bachelor’s Degree

If you have the time and resources, consider earning a paralegal bachelor’s degree. Though it is not a requirement for most paralegal jobs, having a bachelor’s degree or even an associate degree can make you a much more desirable candidate for the job.

The great thing about earning an undergraduate degree is the increasing accessibility of college programs. For instance, you can pursue a paralegal degree from the confines of your home via online colleges. Though online learning may not be for everyone, it is often the best option for those with full-time jobs and other personal obligations.

4

Paralegal Bachelor’s Degree

If you have the time and resources, consider earning a paralegal bachelor’s degree. Though it is not a requirement for most paralegal jobs, having a bachelor’s degree or even an associate degree can make you a much more desirable candidate for the job.

The great thing about earning an undergraduate degree is the increasing accessibility of college programs. For instance, you can pursue a paralegal degree from the confines of your home via online colleges. Though online learning may not be for everyone, it is often the best option for those with full-time jobs and other personal obligations.

How to Become a Paralegal: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Become a Paralegal: A Step-by-Step Guide

There are many paths you can take to become a paralegal, and no one path is right for everyone. Use the guide below to determine the best path for you.

Gain legal experience

If you’re fresh out of high school and can’t afford to pursue further education, then the first thing we recommend doing is gaining legal experience. Some law firms hire high school graduates as secretaries or interns. Take advantage of these and learn as much as you can about legal proceedings.

Attend a vocational school

The next option to becoming a paralegal is to consider attending a vocational school. This is a good substitute for traditional educational paths and helps you enter the job market faster.

Earn an undergraduate degree

If you choose a traditional education path, you’ll want to pursue an undergraduate degree. Whether you go for an associate or a bachelor’s degree, you’ll be sure to find more job prospects after completing a degree program.

Earn a graduate degree

If you want to take your paralegal career to the top, consider earning a master’s or doctoral degree. These are not required to work as a paralegal but can serve you well if this is a career you intend to work in for a long time.

Key Paralegal Skills

Key Paralegal Skills

Even though the road to becoming a paralegal is not as rigorous as other careers, there are a few skills you will need to do the job. Below are three of the most important skills you must have when pursuing a paralegal career.

Legal Writing Capabilities

You will do a lot of writing for your law firm as a paralegal. Everything from crafting basic emails to drafting legal documents falls onto your lap. While the law firm will walk you through their house style and particular requirements, it is good to have an idea of how to write legal documents beforehand.

Because legal documents carry sensitive information, there can be no typos or mistakes when drafting them. While lawyers will likely review your work, it is extremely important to ensure you are a skilled and clear writer before applying for a paralegal job.

Knowledge of Laws and Legal Forms

Paralegals are expected to have an advanced understanding of the legal system. This is because paralegals are often the ones drafting legal documents and conducting further investigation on legal cases. So while it isn’t necessary to go to law school to become a paralegal, it’s still imperative that you remain knowledgeable about the law.

Knowledge of Attorney and Lawyer Job Requirements

Since a paralegal assists attorneys or lawyers, you will want to have an understanding of what their jobs entail. By knowing what is required of the person you work for, you will be able to meet their needs much better.

An easy way to learn more about what these jobs require is to browse through job posting descriptions.

Paralegal Salary and Job Outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the paralegal field is expected to grow by 10 percent in the next decade. This is much faster than other occupations, which means there will be many paralegal jobs available in the coming years.

The BLS also reports that paralegals earn a median salary of $52,920, which is enough to grant decent living standards.

32900
Min salary

$

52920
Average salary

$

85160
Top salary

$

Entry-Level Paralegal Job Requirements

While the typical entry-level paralegal holds an associate degree, there are no standard job requirements for the role in most states. You can work this job with nothing but a high school diploma or GED.

What Does a Paralegal Do?

What Does a Paralegal Do?

Paralegals do quite a bit in their daily jobs. It is easy to imagine how lawyers and attorneys are overwhelmed with the amount of work they have to do daily. All of the overflow work tends to pass down to paralegals to work on instead.

These are some of the most common job aspects for paralegals.

Gather Facts of Cases

It is common for lawyers and attorneys to have a full plate of cases. With the amount of work that goes into each case, paralegals are asked to step in.

Many paralegals conduct interviews and meetings with clients and witnesses to help gather information and facts about cases. These are all transcribed, typically by the paralegal, and given to whichever lawyer or attorney is working the said case.

Collect and Arrange Evidence

Paralegals also help collect and arrange evidence for upcoming cases. This means sifting through tons of paperwork and legal documents, as well as contacting the right people to compile a comprehensive list of evidence for the case.

Paralegals will then sit down with the lawyer or attorney on the case and help them review the evidence. Whether it means talking through the evidence with them or simply passing on the comprehensive list, paralegals help make this process much smoother.

Write and Organize Paperwork

Working in the legal world requires fulfilling mountains of paperwork. Paralegals are the lucky ones who get to write, organize, and maintain all of this paperwork. As a paralegal, you will never run out of paperwork to complete.

You will do everything from drafting legal documents and correspondences to writing and summarizing reports. Most paralegals also keep track of paperwork such as affidavits and other formal statements.

Paralegal Certifications

Paralegals are generally not required to earn any certifications. However, some states do have certain certification requirements. Even if your state does not, certifications improve your employability.

These are a few of the best paralegal certifications you can earn.

NFPA Paralegal Certification

One of the most common certifications you can earn is the National Federation of Paralegals Association’s Paralegal Certification. There are two exams you can take: the core competency exam and the advanced competency exam. Passing either of these certification exams adds credibility to your name as a paralegal.

AAP Certified Paralegal

The American Alliance of Paralegals offers the American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) certification. This certification is only available to those who have work experience as paralegals. You must have also already completed a certified paralegal program before taking this certification exam.

NALS Professional Paralegal

The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALS) offers four paralegal certifications. The best choice is the Professional Paralegal Certification. This is offered to those with five or more years of paralegal work experience and is meant to show your expertise in the field.

How to Prepare for Your Paralegal Job Interview

How to Prepare for Your Paralegal Job Interview

While the job-hunting process for a paralegal job can be stressful, you can easily ace your next job interview by preparing ahead of time. Paralegal job interviews are similar to most other job interviews and require you to be timely, knowledgeable, and confident.

The following questions are commonly asked during paralegal job interviews.

Paralegal Job Interview Practice Questions

  • Why do you want to become a paralegal?
  • How would you describe a paralegal’s job duties in your own words?
  • Do you have any experience in the paralegal field?
  • What steps do you take to ensure your work is punctual and accurate?

How Long Does It Take to Become a Paralegal?

Since there are typically no rigid education or experience requirements to becoming a paralegal, the time it takes to become one varies for everyone. You could become a paralegal within a matter of months if you decide to start applying for jobs without pursuing further education. It could also take a few years if you opt for a trade school certificate or college degree.

2
Associate degree

years

4
Bachelor’s degree

years

6
Master’s degree

years

Should You Become a Paralegal in 2021?

There is a fast-growing demand for paralegals in the United States, with an estimated 10 percent job growth within the next decade. You can easily earn over $50,000 per year in this job while experiencing a front-seat ride to the legal world without going to law school.

If you want to become a paralegal, now is the time to go for it. With plenty of job opportunities, decent pay, and never-ending interesting work, this occupation is perfect for those who enjoy helping others, solving problems, and organizing mountains of paperwork.

Paralegal FAQs

Is a paralegal certification worth it?

Certifications are not necessary for most paralegal jobs, but they are helpful. If you do not plan to earn a degree in paralegal studies, a certification will definitely be worth it.

Is it difficult to become a paralegal?

Studying to become a paralegal can be intense and time-consuming, but most paralegals would not describe it as being difficult. It requires a high degree of dedication, but it is not a career you will have to jump through hoops to get into.

Do paralegals go to court with lawyers?

Paralegals help prepare lawyers and attorneys for court cases and therefore get the chance to appear in court. However, as a paralegal, you cannot represent clients during court hearings.

What is the difference between a paralegal and a legal assistant?

Paralegals are much more involved with the law aspect of the job than legal assistants. Legal assistants are more similar to legal secretaries, while paralegals can be seen as lawyer apprentices or interns.

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