Paralegals or legal assistants is a fast-growing field with a prediction of 18% growth before 2010, according to the US Bureau of Labor statistics. (1)
What Is a Paralegal?
Paralegals and legal assistants do a wide variety of tasks in support of attorneys; daily tasks may include organization, filing, conducting legal research, and writing drafts of some documents. Paralegals are employed in a wide variety of situations, from the largest to the smallest law firms, with legal departments at corporations, and at municipal, state, and federal government agencies. Most often being a paralegal is a full-time, 40 hour per week job, and on occasion, overtime is required to meet deadlines.
How to Become a Paralegal
There are several paths one might take to become a paralegal or legal assistant, but the first step is to graduate from high school or successfully obtain a GED degree in lieu of a high school diploma.
You may choose to enter an associate’s degree at a local or another college that will lead to a paralegal certification. The curriculum will vary by school, but generally include learning how to do legal research, legal terminology, an overview to drafting basic legal documents, and an introduction to legal software.
Not all programs are certified by the American Bar Association, and some employers will not require you to come from a certified program, but generally, a certificate from an ABA program will give you a competitive advantage in being hired. You can check with online sites to see which schools are certified. (2)
Some graduates of four-year colleges with bachelor’s degrees and without paralegal training may be hired by law firms to receive on-the-job training, but these types of opportunities are rare.
You will need to get relevant experience to land the “big job”, and this can be obtained by working for a single attorney law office or government office, perhaps in an intern capacity immediately after you complete your education and certification course.
Is there Continued Education for Paralegals?
It will be an advantage to you to continue your education, in order to have a competitive edge for promotions, pay raises or moving on to a larger firm. You can increase your knowledge by taking CLE (Continuing Law Education) classes locally. These types of courses are generally offered frequently in cities, sponsored by the local chapter of the bar association.
Becoming a paralegal can be an interesting and rewarding career, and you will have a wide variety of choices for the type of law you choose to specialize in, whether you are interested in criminal, civil, business, environmental, immigration, or other types of law.