From 2019 to 2029, the employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to increase by 10%.
With a strong job outlook and an average base salary of more than $50,000 per year, it’s easy to see why people want to join this industry.
Have you been considering a career in law yourself? If so, becoming a paralegal could be a smart move! However, before you can report for your first day at work, it’s essential to know what to expect.
Today, we’re sharing a quick guide to follow on your way to this exciting and rewarding profession.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
Any time a case goes to court, there are legal and administrative duties that must be performed. A paralegal takes care of many of these tasks, including:
- Investigating the facts surrounding each case
- Collecting and organizing source documents
- Writing court reports and other legal documents
- Drafting pleadings and motions to be filed
- Assisting attorneys during a trial
While most of a paralegal’s job responsibilities will center on courtroom preparation, this isn’t always the case. In addition to performing court-related duties, they may also be required to prepare civil documents, such as:
- Living wills
- Business contracts
- Separation agreements
If any court or civil matters involve key witnesses or clients, a paralegal will often be responsible for interviewing these individuals and recording their remarks.
Do They Practice Law?
Technically speaking, a paralegal does not practice law and is not authorized to provide legal advice.
However, their duties and responsibilities are critical to the completion of every court case. Without paralegal support, clients and lawyers would be stuck juggling the administrative components of their case, which can be tedious for someone who isn’t trained in this niche.
The degree to which a paralegal has contact with clients depends on the standards followed by their organization. They might communicate with these stakeholders on a regular basis or hardly at all. In any case, their interactions are strictly managerial. In addition to legal advice, paralegals can also represent clients, accept new client cases, or set legal fees.
Important Steps to Become a Paralegal
Now that you know a little more about what a paralegal does, are you considering pursuing this career path? If you love being in a courtroom setting and don’t mind the fast pace of the legal world, it can be an excellent fit. This is also a great job for someone who enjoys learning about the U.S. legal system and has sharp writing/communication skills.
One of the best parts about becoming a paralegal? You’ll never have a boring day at the office!
However, before you prepare for your first day at work, there are several essential steps you’ll need to take care of first. Let’s take a look at the path to follow.
Complete Your Formal Education
There are three different types of academic credentials that can help you enter this profession:
- An associate’s degree
- A bachelor’s degree
- A post-baccalaureate certificate
Let’s take a look at how these programs compare:
Paralegal Degree Paths
All of the above programs will focus on paralegal studies and legal assisting. An associate’s degree will usually take around two years to complete, and you can expect to spend about four years pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the same field.
Once you complete your bachelor’s degree, you may also choose to obtain a post-baccalaureate certificate. This program, which usually takes around one year, can help you fine-tune your skills, focus on a specialty, and secure advanced positions in the field.
Many jobs are available in this field, including ones aimed at professionals with two-year associate’s degrees. These are often provided through a local community college and are usually more cost-effective than traditional, four-year universities.
If you decide to go for a top-paying position, your odds of securing one are higher with a four-year degree. That said, it’s entirely possible to make a great living with a two-year degree under your belt.
Looking for help on the way to the top?
At Approved Course, we offer many different resources for students interested in the legal profession. If you decide to pursue a career as a lawyer after working as a paralegal, we can even provide you with advice and tips on how to pass the bar exam.
How to Choose the Right Paralegal Program
Are you torn between a few different paralegal programs? If so, it pays to know the features that set one option apart from the rest.
A sure sign of legitimacy is a program approved by the American Bar Association or ABA. For your reference, you can find a list of such programs right on the ABA website. The list, which is updated in February and August of each year, makes it easy to check the credibility of any program you’re considering.
With the online portal, you can quickly search for approved paralegal programs by entering any of the following characteristics:
- Type of degree
- Program director name
- Program name
Once you find a program that checks out and fits your needs, there’s still a little more research to do. Next, hop online and find the program’s average job placement rate.
If most students who graduate from the program obtain legal jobs, it’s a good sign that the program’s curriculum is carefully tailored to the legal needs of your area. Depending on the geographic area, you may even find two-year associate degree programs with higher placement rates than four-year alternatives.
Obtain a Paralegal Certification
Paralegal certification is not required to work in this industry. However, it can help you outpace the competition and impress future employers.
There are a few different institutions that offer these certifications, including:
- The National Federation of Paralegals
- The National Association of Legal Assistants
- The American Alliance of Paralegals
Complete an Internship
Though not always required, many paralegal programs will require students to complete an internship in a legal setting before graduating. This can offer future professionals an excellent opportunity to network with others in their industry and learn the ropes of the job.
At your internship, you’ll gain hands-on experience in the courtroom. You may even connect with your future employer! According to the most recent numbers, around 40% of new hires come from a company’s internship program. In addition to private law firms, you may be able to secure an internship at several different businesses around town, including:
- Banks and credit unions
- Insurance companies
- Real estate firms
- Professional trade organizations
- Corporate legal departments
There are also many internships available in the public sector, such as state and federal government agencies. Your paralegal program director can help you identify and reach out to local companies looking to hire.
Secure Your First Job
Once you’ve completed all of your requisite educational stepping stones, you’re ready to land your first job as a paralegal!
If you enjoyed your internship experience, inquire about any current or future openings. If the door is closed there, ask for recommendations on other places you should apply. In addition, you can also check to see if your program director has any ideas about where you can apply.
As you start working, you may find there are opportunities for advancement. This is especially the case if you become specialized in a certain aspect of paralegal work, such as document security.
Start Working as a Paralegal
Becoming a paralegal will allow you to hone your analytical skills and legal knowledge and connect with like-minded professionals.
One major benefit to choosing this profession? The path to the courtroom is relatively short due to the high-quality associate degree programs offered by local community colleges.