How to Become a Paralegal
Statistics show that the paralegal career is one of the most prosperous careers today since a very small number of paralegals are unemployed.
Specialized training is recommended
The job opportunities for paralegals are growing, but so is the competition, so it is recommendable for paralegals to obtain specialized paralegal education or paralegal training, as that will sharpen their skills and abilities, improve their hiring chances and provide them with a better paying job. The length and the focus of the paralegal educational programs may vary significantly. One can choose from:
- home studying and online programs, which is the most flexible choice;
- paralegal associates degrees, that can be obtained after two years at a community college
- certificate programs offered by business schools, that can take up to a year to complete
- college and university degrees, that take four years to obtain or advanced paralegal master degrees.
These programs focus on several crucial skills for paralegals, such as organizational skills, analytical skills, communication skills and understanding the ethics. When choosing a training program, it is recommended to pick an accredited one. In order to be accredited, the paralegal educational programs have to operate at least two years and satisfy all the necessary requirements. The next step for ambitious individuals is paralegal certification.
One cannot aspire for a successful paralegal career without proper paralegal training, because employers usually prefer candidates with an associate's degree or specialized certificates in areas like business, family law, immigration law etc. They also favor the candidates with some law office experience. Law firms usually hire paralegals with at least 2 years working experience.
Main duties of a paralegal
If one aspires to become a paralegal, he or she should certainly get familiar with the obligations and job duties that are to be expected on the job. Most paralegals work in law firms and their role in these companies is significant. They assist lawyers in case preparations, they help them prepare for trials, hearings, opening and closing arguments; the paralegals also conduct legal research, collect and present important case information, they prepare witnesses, organise legal documents, handle mortgages, divorces, wills etc. So, to sum it all up, the job a paralegal does does not seem much different than that of a lawyer.
However, there are a few things that a paralegal cannot undertake, such as present cases in court, sign documents or officially advise clients. There are job opportunities for paralegals other than working in law firms, too. Many corporations and organizations employ paralegals, where they have various legal duties, depending on the field of work.
Main characteristics sought
If thinking about becoming a paralegal, it would be beneficial to develop certain characteristics which are considered important for a successful professional in this field. First of all, one has to be organized, as he or she will be expected to work on several cases simultaneously. One should be curious, very detail oriented and perform research effectively and efficiently, finding and understanding the facts. As lawyers usually have tight schedules, paralegals are also expected to successfully work under pressure and deal with deadlines.
The paralegal job is important and one should do it responsibly and reliably. Also, paralegals are supposed to be adaptable, as they will need to perform various tasks. As paralegals work with people and should help them, being philanthropic and having people skills is certainly a great characteristic.
Future prospects for a paralegal
The paralegal career is very rewarding and offers many possibilities for professional growth, as the demand for paralegals increases. It is expected that law firms will hire more paralegals to perform more of the duties of lawyers, in order to decrease costs. Also, the demand for some types of specialized paralegals is expected to increase significantly, as these fields become more popular, such as: environmental law experts, health care experts, specialists in intellectual property law etc. Banks and insurance companies show increased interest in hiring paralegals, too.
Income opportunities for paralegals
Paralegals mostly have a very satisfying income. At the beginning, the a paralegal's salary is lower, around $25,000 a year, but the income significantly increases after a couple of years of experience and, according to statistics, an average paralegal earns around $60,000 a year. When starting a paralegal career, education plays a very important role in determining one's salary. A more educated paralegal will certainly be better paid. But, as time passes one's experience and abilities become a much more important factor. An experienced and appreciated paralegal will be able to negotiate their salary terms. Competent assistants are crucial for lawyers and will certainly be given a raise in order to be kept on the job, as the law firms always compete for better qualified staff.
You should make a thorough research on how to become a paralegal and pursue your paralegal career if you find this job attractive and you find yourself suitable for it.