Paralegals are highly-trained assistants who provide support to lawyers. Paralegals play a crucial role in legal proceedings since they are often responsible for interviewing witnesses, filing court paperwork, and researching case law. As the demand for paralegals has grown, salaries in the field have surged. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median pay in 2017 for paralegals was $50,410. Training to become a paralegal offers the chance to have a lucrative career in the legal field. Students who are considering paralegal degree programs may have the following questions.
What are the Steps to Becoming a Paralegal?
In some places, the steps to becoming a paralegal are, basically, one – apply for a job as a paralegal and get it. With no official requirements in many states (not even a license), becoming a paralegal is a matter of getting some lawyer or firm to trust you to do basic secretarial work.
But for most law firms to consider a paralegal’s CV, he or she needs to obtain some manner of formal education; for most, that’s the first of many steps to becoming a paralegal. Junior colleges and four-year colleges and universities offer degree programs for paralegals. According to the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, more and more employers are looking to fulfill entry-level paralegal jobs with professionals who obtain a four-year degree. The degree program selection should have approval through the American Bar Association.
Internships help start an individual on his or her paralegal career path and can be obtained while still attending courses or following graduation. Most good paralegal programs will also offer support in paralegal job placement. With a paralegal degree and an internship both on a resume, job candidates are given more consideration for open positions within a law firm.
What Are Some Typical Entry-Level Paralegal Jobs?
Entry-level paralegal jobs continuously flood the job market. Legal firms rely on the research and administrative tasks provided by their team of paralegals. For a full paralegal job description, you’ll have to look to specific paralegal positions; some are more secretarial, some are more research-focused, and some are court-oriented. Paralegal career options for a recent graduate can include:
- Legal secretary: A legal secretary’s job typically later turns into a more permanent paralegal career. While paralegals offer research assistance to attorneys, legal secretaries are responsible for administrative tasks such as typing reports, scheduling appointments, and arranging meetings.
- Legal assistant: A legal assistant will be in charge of helping attorneys prepare for trials. Legal assistant jobs are research-heavy.
- Court administrative assistant: One of the steps to becoming a paralegal is getting a foot in the door. Working in the court system as an administrative assistant can help paralegals get the law experience they need. A file clerk job in the courts is also an option for entry-level paralegals.
- Litigation paralegal: Litigation paralegals are required to assist attorneys during the discovery and investigative phases of a case. They may be asked to depose witnesses or research facts surrounding the case.
Entry-level paralegal career options can also include assisting an attorney in the field of immigration or personal injury.
Is there Room for Advancement for Paralegals?
Paralegals who attend continuing education courses throughout their careers will have the most opportunities for advancement. Paralegals trained in specialized areas of the law will have a high level of marketability in the field. Law firms award top salaries to paralegals trained in areas such as commercial law, healthcare, estate planning, family law, intellectual property, and real estate. Paralegals can also earn the title of paralegal manager within a law firm. A natural step for a number of paralegals is to attend law school and become an attorney; many students become paralegals as the first step to a legal career.
What About Alternative Careers for Paralegals?
Part of the paralegal job description, in most cases, is high-level research skills, meaning there are a number of alternative careers for paralegals. For instance, a paralegal may choose to become a library technician in a law library. Technicians assist with locating materials, report preparation, and researching case law. Other paralegal career options include legal job recruiter. Recruiters are responsible for securing legal talent by posting open jobs, reviewing CVs, and conducting interviews. Paralegal studies also prepare graduates for jobs in the field of technology and education, since most paralegal job description emphasizes computing and organizational skills. Alternative careers in the tech industry can make use of paralegal’s legal knowledge.