Paralegal Certification, Training & Education
Education for the Paralegal Profession
Paralegals (sometimes called legal assistants) are professional staff members who assist lawyers with a variety of tasks. In general, their duties include substantial legal work such as research, drafting documents and correspondence, and interacting with clients. The exact job description of a paralegal widely varies depending on which area of law they are employed in.
For example, a paralegal who works primarily on personal injury cases may spend a large portion of their workday reviewing and summarizing medical records, police reports, and witness statements, and preparing for depositions and trials.
Whereas a corporate paralegal would likely spend much time drafting contracts and agreements, assisting with SEC filings, and maintaining corporate minute books.
Different still, a bankruptcy paralegal job duties will primarily consist of completing forms, schedules, and petitions, communicating with the trustee, bankruptcy court, and client, and filing documents with the court.
There are many other paralegal specialties, all with their own unique job descriptions.
Although a paralegal will likely need to learn many of their specific work duties while on the job, many paralegal employers prefer candidates who have completed some type of specific paralegal education.
Paralegal educational programs teach many important skills, such as legal research and writing, and computer skills, that will be utilized by anyone in the paralegal profession. Luckily, there are many different education opportunities for paralegals, including Associate’s and Bachelor’s degree programs, as well as online paralegal certificate options.
Paralegals have a wide variety of educational backgrounds. Here is a summary of the options for paralegal education:
- A 4-year paralegal degree.
- A 2-year degree in any major with a paralegal certificate.
- A 2-year degree in paralegal studies
- A paralegal certificate
- A master's degree in paralegal studies
- A master's degree in any major with a paralegal certificate
- Some college credits and on the job-training
- A high school diploma and on the job training.
Salary by Education (Source: NALA.org Paralegal Salary 2016 Survey)
It’s important to properly evaluate any paralegal program that’s being considered. Things such as cost, qualifications of the instructors, time and day of classes, online class options, available technology, and job placement assistance should all play a part when deciding on a paralegal program.
Most paralegal programs also require their students to complete an internship, or practicum, towards the end of their paralegal studies. This offers a first-hand look at the legal field, and sometimes even results in a job offer for the aspiring paralegal.
Paralegal Certification and Salaries
Legal Assistant Education
Source: NALA.org - Paralegal Salary Survey Report for 2016 (excludes bonuses and overtime)
Although many paralegal educational programs provide their graduates with a “paralegal certificate,” paralegal certification usually refers to a title that a paralegal can earn from an independent organization, usually by taking (and passing) a written test.
The most well-known paralegal certification is that of the “CP” (Certified Paralegal) which is offered by the National Association for Legal Assistants & Paralegals (NALA) Other independent organizations offer their own certifications.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the paralegal field is expected to grow faster than average. Many law firms and other paralegal employers are looking to cut costs, and hiring paralegals to do as much work as possible can save them money.
Still, paralegal programs are also seeing increasing enrollment across the country, so there’s expected to be a fair amount of competition for open paralegal positions in the future. The biggest growth area for paralegals includes in fields such as bankruptcy, foreclosure, environmental law, and general civil paralegal litigation.
In terms of advancement opportunities, there are a few different routes that paralegals can take. In general, as their level of experience goes up, they’ll be assigned additional responsibilities and see appropriate pay raises.
At larger firms, there may be a chance to move into a paralegal manager role, where, in addition to regular paralegal duties, the paralegal would supervise and delegate work to other paralegals. In corporations and government entities, paralegals may have a chance to move into other leadership roles within the legal department.
Some paralegals discover a particular skill in one area, such as legal research, or writing motions, and go on to find a position that centers around what they do best.