How to Become a Paralegal
If you're interested in becoming a paralegal, you're not alone. Also known as legal assistant, paralegal is one of the fastest growing career choices in the United States. Paralegals in the past were often legal secretaries who'd been promoted or college graduates without a legal background, but with the stiff competition for paralegal jobs today, it's recommended that you attend a paralegal school to secure gainful employment.
Paralegal Degrees: Associate Degree or Bachelor Degree?
The first decision to make before starting paralegal studies is whether to enroll in a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor degree program. While many students are tempted to go with the lower cost and time commitment of an associate degree, they also need to consider the competitiveness of the job market they intend to work in.
A common way to reduce the number of eligible candidates for a position is to bump the minimum education requirement to a bachelor's paralegal degree. Conducting research interviews with paralegals where you plan to work may help you to decide which degree will allow you to find employment as soon as you graduate.
Also, find out whether local lawyers prefer to hire paralegals who have completed a program approved by the American Bar Association, as this may affect your choice of program.
After learning the employment requirements for your location, figuring out which school to attend is the next decision. If attending a program that's approved by the American Bar Association is important and there aren't any within driving distance, you can also apply for online paralegal training.
An online paralegal degree from a recognized institution will allow you to learn in your spare time while you continue working at your regular job.
The bulk of paralegals are hired to work in private law firms, but paralegals also have opportunities to work at the federal, state and local government levels, as well as with community legal service programs. Some of the duties that paralegals handle include:
- Clerical tasks
- Client interviews
- Managing investigations
- Fact checking
- Preparing written materials and legal arguments
- Drafting pleadings and motions and filing them with the appropriate court
- Organizing and maintaining all relevant documents for both active and inactive cases
Many paralegals today specialize in particular areas of the law. This allows them to focus on their strengths and passions. Some examples of particular areas include litigation, personal injury, real estate, family law and bankruptcy.
Paralegal graduates can expect to earn from $30,000 up to $90,000 a year, depending on their degree, experience and location. They can also write the LSAT to continue their education at law school for even greater earning power.