In 2016, there were 285,600 paralegal jobs, and these jobs are projected to grow by 15% from 2016-2026. If you want to be one of the people holding a paralegal job but aren’t sure how to go about it, then you may want to read on. In this article, we will detail the steps toward becoming a paralegal.
Paralegal vs. Lawyer
Before we go on to list the steps to becoming a paralegal, we must first define what a paralegal is. As someone who assists lawyers in their preparations for hearings, trials, and corporate meetings, paralegals play a vital role in the legal system.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some duties of paralegals include:
- Investigating and gathering the facts of the case
- Conducting research on laws and regulations related to the case
- Organizing and maintaining documents
- Gathering and arranging evidence and other legal documents for lawyer review and case preparation
- Writing and summarizing reports
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Getting affidavits that may be used as evidence in court
- Helping lawyers during trials
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Scheduling interviews, meetings, and depositions
While there is some overlap of what paralegals and lawyers can do, only lawyers can actually practice law and represent clients in court. A lawyer is also ultimately responsible for any work that a paralegal performs.
Lawyers also have to finish a comprehensive, three-year post-graduate program and pass the bar exam, while paralegals gain their qualifications through training, completing a course in paralegal studies from a paralegal school, and work experience.
Step 1: Complete a Formal Paralegal Education Program
Generally, paralegals need some formal education to be able to find a job. That is why the first step to becoming a paralegal is finding and completing a formal paralegal education program from an accredited paralegal school. Most paralegals have an Associate’s Degree or a certificate in paralegal studies, though you can also earn a Bachelor’s or even a Master’s Degree in paralegal studies.
Step 2: Gain Professional Legal Experience
Most paralegal students gain legal experience through internships. These internships provide you with valuable on-the-job training and a chance to work in the field and network with other lawyers and paralegals. You will be able to build useful professional relationships. Internships often range from 120 – 280 hours and can contribute to the credits you earn in your degree program.
Step 3: Consider Different Areas of Law
There are a number of specialty practice areas where paralegals are in demand. Some of these practice areas are:
- Corporate – These paralegals help lawyers prepare employee contracts, shareholder agreements, and other legal papers that a company may need.
- Litigation – Litigation paralegals maintain legal documents and evidence, as well as conduct research for lawyers and draft settlement agreements.
- Real estate – Real estate paralegals assist lawyers with the sale and transfer of commercial properties.
Step 4: Earn Paralegal Professional Certification
Professional certification is a credential that you can earn through testing. It is awarded by one of a few nationally recognized certification agencies, such as the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS), and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).
The certification is voluntary and not required by all employers. However, it provides an advantage over other competing candidates.
Now that you’ve completed your paralegal education and have gotten a certification, all that you have to do is find a paralegal job! Being a paralegal is an often challenging but rewarding job. If you truly want to become one, then nothing should stop you.