How to Become a Paralegal
If you're interested in law, are organized, good with time management, and want to work in a stimulating and changing environment, then you might like to become a paralegal. While a lawyer does many of the tasks associated with practicing the law, they are delegating more and more work to paralegals.
While some paralegals will complete mainly administrative or secretarial tasks, others have high amount of responsibility. In some cases, paralegals may compile entire defenses for clients, and attend trials. If you're good at research and are strong in English and the humanities, then you will likely excel as a paralegal.
Education Requirements to Become a Paralegal
You can start preparing to become a paralegal (or legal assistant) while you are still in high school. Taking subjects in English and humanities will help, and if your school offers it, you may also like to study law as an elective. Work experience at a law firm on your summer breaks can help you get a better feel for the industry, gain experience, and also may lead to a job later on.
To become a paralegal you will need to either complete a four year bachelor degree in legal studies, or a specialized two year paralegal degree which caters to those looking specifically to become paralegals. You can complete these courses at a traditional campus college, community college, or even online. The American Bar Association publishes a list of accredited courses on their website. These courses are often times preferred by employers.
It's important to know that while you can get a job as a paralegal with the two year program, many large firms and organization are now looking for graduates with four year degrees.
Paralegal Job Description
The job description of a paralegal can be quite varied. Many paralegals provide secretarial service to the lawyers they work for. Some may book appointments, take phone calls and inquiries, and organize meetings, while others may take on all but a few of the responsibilities of a lawyer. They may research precedent and past rulings, investigate a legal case, interview clients and witnesses, and even prepare trial documentation.
The kind of work you do when you become a paralegal will be determined by your interest, your education, and your experience. If you simply want an administrative role within law, then you will find plenty of opportunity. For those that want a more complex job, there are also many options you can take to pursue this.
Here are some of the duties of a paralegal:
- Taking phone calls and inquiry
- Meeting with clients
- Administrative tasks such as filing and photocopying
- Communicating with colleagues
- Investigating a case
- Interviewing clients
- Interviewing witnesses and law enforcement officers
- Researching examples
- Preparing trial documents
- Compiling reports
Paralegal Salary and Career Path
Most paralegals will start their career in an administrative role, and with time progress to more complex tasks. Depending on the type of job you are looking for when you become a paralegal, there are many different options you might take.
Most paralegals work within a law firm. Some might assist a lawyer who keeps his own offices, others may work for large organizations. Those who work in larger firms will tend to specialize in a particular area, while those in smaller groups will complete a wider range of tasks, but have less opportunity for advancement. Some will work for judges or within the court system.
Some paralegals provide administrative support, others are researchers, while some are expert at preparing for a trial. There are many paralegals that are as knowledgeable and experienced as lawyers themselves.
Over the course of a career, paralegals may take on further schoolwork to become a lawyer themselves. Some other examples of positions paralegals could find themselves in over the course of their career include:
- Private investigator
- Administrative assistant
- Office manager
The median wage for a paralegal is $45,000 a year. The top 10% in the field can earn in excess of $70,000 a year. While there is faster than average growth expected in this field, there are many people looking to become a paralegal, so the competition can be high depending on your job market. If you're looking for a challenging career in the legal field that offers plenty of opportunities to grow and develop, then you may enjoy a career as a paralegal.
*Salary Information provided by the Bureau Of Labor Statistics