How to Become a Paralegal: Education, Certification & Job Opportunities

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This post covers everything you need to know about how to become a paralegal

If you’re interested in starting a career in the legal field, becoming a paralegal is a great option.

Paralegals play a vital role in the legal system, providing support to attorneys and helping to ensure that cases are handled efficiently and effectively.

Here I’ll explore the education, training, and career path required to become a paralegal.

I’ll also discuss the skills and job prospects that are necessary to succeed in this field.

Whether you’re a recent graduate or a professional looking for a career change, this post will provide valuable information on how to start your journey to becoming a paralegal.

Let’s get started

How to Become a Paralegal

Generally, the process of becoming a paralegal involves three major things, one is to meet education and training requirements in order to gain a strong foundation in the field, two is to develop the essential skills and qualities that are necessary to excel, and lastly, complete certification and professional development to demonstrate your expertise and commitment to the profession.

Here is a breakdown

Meet Education and Training Requirements

National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)’s findings indicate 85% of all paralegals receive some formal paralegal education

paralegals.org

Becoming a paralegal requires a certain level of education and training.

There are different paths to take to meet the requirements for this field, and the requirements may vary depending on the state or employer.

However, generally, as a paralegal, you should have at least a two-year associate degree in paralegal studies, A bachelor’s degree in legal studies or a related field, A master’s degree in legal studies, or a certificate in paralegal studies.

Associate Degree in paralegal studies

An associate degree in paralegal studies can be earned at a community college or vocational school.

These programs typically take two years to complete and include courses in legal research, legal writing, and various areas of law such as contracts, torts, and criminal law.

These programs are designed to provide you with a solid foundation in the legal field and prepare them for entry-level positions as paralegals.

A bachelor’s degree in legal studies or a related field

A bachelor’s degree in legal studies or a related field is the most common educational path for becoming a paralegal.

This type of degree typically takes four years to complete and can be earned at many colleges and universities across the country.

The curriculum of a bachelor’s degree program in paralegal studies typically includes courses in legal research, writing, and analysis, as well as other topics specific to the field.

Many programs also include an internship or externship, which provides you with hands-on experience working in a law firm or other legal setting.

According to the NFPA, employers in the field are placing an increasing emphasis on hiring candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or a related field.

They believe that the knowledge, skills, and training that come with a bachelor’s degree are critical for success in the profession, and it’s the best way to gain the knowledge and skills needed to become an effective paralegal.

Additionally, having a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or a related field can also open up opportunities for advancement within the profession, such as becoming a supervisor or manager of a legal team, or even pursuing a career as a lawyer.

Read also: How to become a lawyer

A master’s degree in legal studies

If you’ve already earned a bachelor’s degree in legal studies, pursuing a master’s degree in legal studies (MLS) can be an excellent way to further your education and enhance your career prospects.

A master’s degree program in legal studies can typically be completed in one or two years and will provide advanced training in a variety of legal topics.

Courses that are commonly offered in a master’s degree program in legal studies include negotiation, intellectual property law, employment law, legal writing, and trial advocacy.

These courses provide a deeper understanding of these specific areas of law and help you develop the skills necessary to excel in these areas as a paralegal or other legal professional.

Having a master’s degree in legal studies can open up a wide range of career opportunities for you.

It may qualify you for more senior positions or for positions that require a higher level of expertise, such as managing a legal team or working as a legal consultant.

It can also give you the skillset to manage complex legal matters and deal with clients.

Additionally, having a master’s degree in legal studies can also demonstrate to potential employers that you are highly motivated and committed to your career and that you possess a high level of knowledge and expertise in the field.

This can make you a more competitive candidate in the job market and can help you to secure a higher salary.

Certificate Programs in paralegal studies

Some universities and colleges also offer certificate programs in paralegal studies.

These programs may be shorter in duration, usually taking around one year to complete.

They also typically focus on the core skills and knowledge needed to be a paralegal such as legal research, legal writing, and legal ethics.

Online or Distance Learning Options

With the rise of online education, many colleges and universities now offer online or distance learning options for paralegal education.

These programs offer flexibility and convenience for students who cannot attend traditional classes.

Online programs usually include the same courses and curriculum as traditional programs, and some colleges and universities offer a hybrid of both online and in-person classes.

Develop the required Skills and Qualities

Becoming a paralegal requires a combination of education, training, and specific skills and qualities.

In addition to earning a degree or certification in paralegal studies, as an aspiring paralegal you must also possess certain abilities and characteristics that will enable you to perform your duties effectively.

The following are the skill-set necessary to Excel in a paralegal career

Attention to detail

This is critical in the legal field, where even small mistakes can have major consequences.

Paralegals are responsible for reviewing and analyzing legal documents and you must be able to identify and correct any errors or inconsistencies.

Organization skill

Good organization is another key skill for paralegals.

You must be able to effectively manage and organize large volumes of information, including legal documents and case files.

This includes keeping track of deadlines and ensuring that all necessary documents are filed and submitted on time.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is also an important skill for paralegals.

You must be able to analyze legal issues and apply your knowledge to real-world situations.

This includes interpreting laws and regulations, researching legal precedents, and identifying potential legal strategies.

Other skills

In addition to these technical skills, you must also possess certain qualities that will help them succeed in their roles.

These include

  • strong communication skills, both written and verbal
  • the ability to work well under pressure and in a fast-paced environment
  • teamwork
  • confidentiality
  • etc

Finally, you should possess a genuine interest in the law and a commitment to continuing education and professional development.

The legal field is constantly evolving, and you must stay up-to-date with changes in laws and regulations in order to provide the best possible service to your clients.

Complete Certification and Professional Development

Certification and professional development are important aspects of a career as a paralegal.

Obtaining certification demonstrates a level of knowledge and expertise in the field while continuing education and professional development help to keep paralegals current on the latest laws, regulations, and best practices.

If you have completed a paralegal education program for which you have a certificate hanging on your wall, you could say you are certificated. This is different from being certified.

NFPA

There are several certification options available for paralegals, including

  1. The Certified Paralegal from the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).
  2. The Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) certification is also from NALA.
  3. The Professional Paralegal certification from the National Association for Legal Professionals (NALS)
  4. Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) from (NFPA)
  5. The Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCE) from (NFPA)
  6. etc.

These certifications require passing an exam and meeting certain education and experience requirements.

Obtaining certification can provide a number of benefits for paralegals, including increased job opportunities, higher earning potential, and professional recognition.

Additionally, many employers prefer to hire certified paralegals, as it demonstrates a level of commitment to the profession and a desire for professional growth.

Continuing education and professional development are also important for you to stay current on the latest laws, regulations, and best practices.

Many professional organizations and state bars offer continuing education programs, and many employers may require paralegals to complete a certain number of continuing education hours each year.

Participating in professional development activities, such as attending conferences, joining professional organizations, and networking with other paralegals, can help you stay informed about the latest developments in the field and connect with other professionals in the industry.

Paralegal Career Path and Job Opportunities

As a paralegal, you can work in a variety of legal settings, including law firms, government agencies, corporations, and non-profit organizations.

Law firms are the most common employer for paralegals, and the size of the firm can range from small, local practices to large, international firms.

Government agencies, such as district attorneys’ offices, public defender’s offices, and courts, can employ you to assist with legal research, document preparation, and case management.

Corporations, particularly those in the finance, healthcare, and technology industries, also hire you to assist with legal matters related to their business operations.

Non-profit organizations may also employ you to assist with legal issues related to their mission and objectives.

Paralegal Job Outlook

The job outlook for paralegals is positive, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting employment of paralegals and legal assistants to grow 14% from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Also, BLS projects about 45,800 openings for paralegals and legal assistants each year, on average, over the decade.

Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as retiring.

This growth is driven by the increasing demand for legal services and the need to control costs, which has led to more work being delegated to paralegals.

Additionally, the use of technology and online legal research tools has made the work of paralegals more efficient, allowing them to handle a greater volume of work.

Area of specialzation

As a paralegal, you will have the opportunity to work on a wide range of legal cases, including criminal, civil, and business law.

You may have the opportunity to specialize in a specific area of law, such as intellectual property, immigration, or family law.

This allows you to gain expertise in a particular area of law and can lead to more challenging and rewarding work.

Career Advancement

Career advancement opportunities for you as a paralegal are also available.

You may go on to become a legal administrator, legal assistant, or even attorney.

Also, you may choose to start your own businesses, such as legal document preparation services or freelance paralegal services.

To remain competitive in the job market and advance in your career, it is important to stay current with the latest technology, legal research tools, and laws and regulations.

Also obtaining relevant paralegal certification can demonstrate your knowledge and expertise to employers and can also lead to higher earning potential.

Conclusion

Generally becoming a paralegal is a great option for you if you are interested in a career in the legal field.

It’s important to keep in mind that becoming a paralegal requires a combination of education, skills, and a career path that matches your aspirations and expectations.

I hope that this blog post has provided valuable information on how to become a paralegal and has given you a clear understanding of the steps you need to take to start your journey.

Remember that certification and professional development are key to advancing your career and staying updated with the latest developments in the legal field.

I encourage you to explore your options and research further to find the best path for you.

Good luck on your journey to becoming a successful paralegal!

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Isack Kimaro
Isack Kimaro

Holder of Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) and Post Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. I am dedicated to providing valuable and easy-to-understand legal information for individuals at all levels of understanding. Whether you are a layperson looking to increase your knowledge, a law student striving to excel in your studies, or a practicing lawyer wanting to expand your expertise, I am here to help. I'm not creating content, I'm creating awareness to empower you to take control of your legal understanding and achieve your goals.