Paralegals are in demand. You want to cash in on the opportunity but the question is, ‘how to become a paralegal.’ Continue reading to know the answer.
The demand for paralegals is growing every day. According to a 2020 estimate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this demand increases 12 annually – a number that far exceeds the national average of employment demand.
This high demand for these executives comes with all sorts of perks. Talk about job security, a solid salary package, and a variety of opportunities. So, it’s understandable if you want to pursue your career as a paralegal.
The question, then, arises, ‘how to become a paralegal.’ The answer to this question becomes, even more, complicated because of the lack of any requirement on the national or state level. Yes, some states define the requirements to become a paralegal in the US but these are few in numbers. It all comes down to the employers and job market to determine the educational and experience requirements for these executives.
Luckily, considering the needs of the employers in question and the job market trend, the career route to becoming a paralegal has become quite straightforward. This post will discuss the complete path. But before that, you need to understand the job description of a paralegal.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
As the name suggests, paralegals help attorneys with legal matters. Their job to support the attorneys includes doing documentation, conducting research on cases, communicating with clients to understand the case, and analyzing the case in detail. To fulfill these tasks, they need to possess certain hard and soft skills.
Communication skill is the primary skill that makes or breaks one’s career as a paralegal. Other than that, you must exercise advanced judgmental skills to understand your client and proceed with the case. As paralegals have to do the background work of researching the case in the light of prevailing law, it’s a must for the paralegal to understand the workers compensation lawyer pittsburgh and show skills in researching related matters.
Documentation is another crucial task they carry out. They should understand the nature of documents required for certain matters and also the use of legal terms and jargon. They should also understand the use and implementation of technology in preparing documents and researching references.
Some soft skills that are crucial for a successful paralegal career include problem-solving, public speaking, coordination, and team-working, listening, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking. To enhance these skills, especially public speaking abilities, aspiring paralegals can benefit from working with a skilled public speaking coach who can help them refine their communication style and boost their confidence in legal settings.
These skills are directly or indirectly related to the tasks a paralegal carries out at his job. The usual job description for a paralegal includes the following tasks:
Investigation of relevant facts of a case;
- Researching the case;
- Interviewing clients and witnesses;
- Establishing precedents from the previous legal cases;
- Organizing data that may relate to the case and reporting it to the attorney;
- Drafting documents, agreements, and reports; and
- Acting as a liaison between client and attorney.
Different specialties categorize these professionals. Some specialize in litigation matters. Others have extensive knowledge in managing estates. And still, others help government agencies to help with decisions and law enforcement. As a paralegal, you can be employed by an attorney, law firms, government agencies, and corporations.
How to Become a Paralegal
You can become a paralegal if you have certain skills. These include communication, reading and comprehension, legal research, legal writing, public speaking, and problem-solving. Although you can acquire these skills with a regular college education and some experience in the legal aid industry, employers prefer candidates with relevant educational backgrounds.
Because of this preference, your prospects of getting a job increase with some degrees and diplomas. Plus, you might find it mandatory to attain certain diplomas to satiate state-level requirements for your career.
Get the Relevant Degree
Pro Tip: While choosing the program, use the American Bar Association (ABA) resources to know if an institute and its program are approved by the association or not.
You may start with an associate degree to establish your career. It builds on a high school diploma in most cases. But these requirements may change depending on the institute you have chosen. The two-year degree program should focus on paralegal studies.
Once you have attained the associate degree, you are ready to serve as a paralegal. You can start your career right away – given your state doesn’t issue other prerequisites for this profession and you secure the right job. But in most cases, you would want to increase your knowledge and value by getting a bachelor’s degree. Employers prefer those candidates who have attained at least an undergraduate degree.
If you are pursuing an undergraduate degree for your paralegal career, the program should focus on legal studies. Note that this level of qualification typically requires four years of study.
Most employers should be happy with the bachelor’s degree of their paralegal. But you may want to advance your career or ensure better pay and higher benefits. To secure those benefits, you may consider topping up your undergraduate degree with a graduate one. If you do, you must choose an area of specialization from many including corporate law, employment issues, estate management, or litigation.
This two-year degree can also be pursued online. If you are employed in any other profession and want to try your hand at a position of a paralegal, you can choose to do a master’s in legal studies instead of starting from associate degree programs.
Acquire a Paralegal Certificate
These certificates are not mandatory and after attaining a bachelor’s or master’s degree, you can skip them. But some employers prefer those candidates who have taken time to pursue these programs because it suggests potential employees’ commitment to their careers.
Here are a few certificates you might be interested in:
- National Association of Legal Assistants’ (NALA) certificate for Certified Paralegal;
- NALA’s certificate for Advanced Certified Paralegal, as we can see it takes the former certificate as a prerequisite; and
- National Association for Legal Support’s (NALS) certification for Professional Paralegal.
- Out of these, NALA’s certificates are preferred more by the candidates because of its widespread approval in the job market. This association’s Certified Paralegal and Advanced Certified Paralegal certifications give standards of performance required by most employers.
Fulfill State-Level Paralegal Requirements
These requisites, unsurprisingly, vary from state to state. So, you have to check with your state of residence or work to understand their requirements before applying for a job.
Usually, these requirements include associated degrees, some credit hours in relevant programs, or experience in live paralegal tasks. If a certificate is required at the state level, it is usually voluntary and is reinforced mostly by the local firms and employers.
California is a state that has defined a required minimum academic history for paralegal professionals. These requirements include getting a certificate from a school that is approved by the American Bar Association and some credit hours in legal studies. It should be noted that the California Alliance of Paralegal Association doesn’t include experience within these requisites.
At the same time, the state of Utah emphasized training and experience rather than certifications. So, if you are pursuing this career in Utah, you must attain 1500 hours of experience with a focus on law and legal issues.
Although involuntary, these requirements present a solid starting point for potential employees to develop their resumes accordingly.
Before starting your first job as a paralegal, you have to complete certain experience-related requirements to increase the job prospects. You can get the experience as an intern. If you are not sure which firm or organization will be most suitable for your initial experience, you should consult the student facilitation department at your school.
Proceed to Job
Once you have fulfilled the experience and academic requirements set out by the local bar association and the job market, you should start looking for the job. Because of the increasing demand for paralegals, it shouldn’t be difficult for you to search and secure an appropriate, entry-level job for yourself.
Unsurprisingly, with more experience, certificates, and degrees’ your prospects to secure the job only increase. But you still have to demonstrate your skills – including communication skills, research, and coordination – to open doors for yourself.
With an undergraduate degree, you may find a wide array of employers suitable for you. These employers can be banks, corporations, law firms, government agencies, or insurance companies. As you proceed to specialize in your chosen niche and provided that your experience matches with the additional knowledge, you will find better opportunities with better pay scale and designations.
Paralegal offers promising job opportunities with high pay rates and more demand. In comparison, the path to becoming a paralegal isn’t too difficult. You may choose to go for higher education to work in this field but that’s not a prerequisite.
On the contrary, you can enter the job market and get adequate compensation only because of your bachelor’s degree. To move ahead, however, you may want to specialize in certain areas of this career and use a master’s degree as the route.
Find more detail about the career and its career route from this post.