How to become a paralegal
A paralegal is, in effect, an assistant to a lawyer. A paralegal's main duty is to assist a lawyer in providing their services to their clients. However, a paralegal does not himself/herself actually provide any legal advice.
Paralegals are increasingly playing a big part in the effectiveness of the legal profession because they increase the efficiency of the work carried out in a law office.
What does a paralegal do?
- A paralegal aids a lawyer in preparing for a case;
- Researches material for in preparation for a case;
- Interviews clients/witnesses on behalf of a lawyer;
- Researches statutes, case law;
- Help record excerpts of interviews carried out on.
Requirements to become a paralegal
A paralegal does not require a degree, however, a candidate with a degree education (it does not have to be in a law related subject) stands better chance of lending a job, especially at a bigger law firm.
The main relevant qualifications a paralegal requires are courses specifically for designed for prospective paralegals.
- Anyone wishing to become a paralegal should seek to get paralegal certification. Ensure that any course you do is approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). Employers are more likely to employ people that have accredited courses.
- Degree - Although not required, some firms will insist on it. Many paralegals are educated to a degree level but not necessarily in law. One thing to bear in mind is that larger legal firms will most likely want someone that has a degree. This can be seen from their list of requirements when hiring legal assistants.
- Keep abreast of the latest legal developments. This makes the job of being a paralegal easier.
Non-educational requirements to become a paralegal
- Confident personality – To become a paralegal, a person has to be extremely confident as they will be dealing with their bosses, the lawyers, clients, and members of the public.
- Communication – A paralegal needs to be a good communicator, like any other assistant roles. Communication and confident personality is often one and the same. A person with an extremely confident manner will undoubtedly be a great communicator.
A paralegal career might be a good option for those who have not quite managed to forge a careers as a lawyer, or those wishing to work in the legal industry without going through the trouble of intensive study required to be a lawyer such as getting a law degree and then going on to law school.
The normal hours are the typical business hours of 9AM-5PM, but a paralegal will need to be required to put in a lot of overtime, for which of course they will be financially compensated; this is especially true in cases that involve complex cases.
There is likely to be a growing trend of lawyers and law firm employing paralegals to delegate certain tasks in order to improve efficiency of the service lawyers provide to their clients. This is definitely a growth market as far employment is concerned.
According to Salary.com , a paralegal can expect to earn a median salary of just over $36,000, this figure increases to a median of almost $45,000 after around 4/5 years of experience. A paralegal with over 8 years experience can expect to earn over $60,000. Of course, anyone entering the paralegal career can - through gaining experience and know-how – become a fully-fledged lawyer through determination and taking an appropriate legal course.
Finding a paralegal career
How do you go about finding information on paralegal jobs?
- Most of the popular Internet job sites have a thorough segment on different careers in the legal industry. You should look for jobs that are under legal assistants or for jobs.
- Likewise, some newspapers carry classifieds that advertise jobs. Again you should look through the legal section to find appropriate jobs.
- Look through your local newspapers or websites of local newspapers. They often have a classifieds service advertising jobs in the local area including those for legal assistants.
Unfortunately, the paralegal industry is still relatively in its infancy, and many law firms or lawyers are not sure of the exact role a paralegal should have within a firm; it is therefore highly advised that you know what your role will be when you apply for a job, otherwise you might be disappointed with the responsibilities entailed for the role.
If you get any paralegal education or training online, make sure the organizations providing any study packages such as online paralegal degrees are fully accredited and approved by the American Bar Association. There is no point in wasting money in fees and your time in doing a program that may not be recognized by a potential employee.