Do you have an interest in the legal profession but don’t wish to spend many years in college? If so, you may consider a career with a degree in paralegal or as a legal assistant. Paralegals work with lawyers and assist them with many of their legal tasks. Learn everything you need to know about this career.
How to Become a Paralegal
Although there are a few different ways to become a paralegal, as mentioned below, the most common is by completing a formal training program and obtaining work experience. Although some paralegals receive on-the-job training, completing an academic training program is generally the path most paralegals choose and also the one that offers the best employment options.
Students in paralegal training program takes courses in paralegal and legal ethics; computer applications; family law; civil litigation; legal research; criminal law; administrative law; real estate law and contract law. In addition to completing legal courses, students must complete internships. The internships are an integral part of the paralegal training because they provide the student with hands-on experience working under the supervision of a licensed attorney.
Completed internships are also important components when seeking employment as a paralegal. When looking for a paralegal training program, it’s important to find a school that’s accredited by the American Bar Association.
Although it may not be a legal requirement, certification can demonstrate your knowledge and commitment to this field. There are currently four certifications that can be earned from three different agencies. The Professional Paralegal (PP) credential can be earned from the Associate for Legal Professionals (NALS). The Certified Paralegal (CLA/CP) is available through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) offers the following two credentials: Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) and Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCC).
To be eligible to take any of the certification exams, the paralegal must meet specific requirements, and each organization has their own set of eligibility requirements. While one may require a completed training program, another may require several years of work experience plus training.
Any of the certification sites also offer helpful information on how to become a paralegal. There are currently six states that require licensure or certification of paralegals. These states are Florida, Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, New York and Washington.
Types of Degrees Available for Paralegals
You can become a paralegal through several paths. You may complete a paralegal studies associate degree program, which is a two-year program. Some students also wish to advance their studies and pursue bachelor’s degrees, which typically take four years to complete. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in another field or related fields, you can complete a legal studies certificate program. Certificate programs can often be completed in a year or less.
Becoming a Paralegal through Online Education
There are several schools that offer paralegal training programs through distance learning. All the student needs to participate is a computer and Internet access. Students in the online programs can complete the courses through distance learning but must make arrangements to complete internships at real legal offices. Paralegal courses designed to help prepare the student for certification exams can also be found online.
BLS Job Outlook for Paralegals from 2012 to 2022
The job outlook for paralegals and legal assistants is expected to be very good, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Lawyers and law firms are attempting to increase efficiency and keep expenses down so they’re giving more work and responsibilities to paralegals. Because paralegals can do a lot of the tasks formerly done by attorneys, they’re a less expensive alternative to attorneys.
The BLS predicts that paralegals would see an employment growth of about seventeen percent between 2012 and 2022. Paralegals that have excellent database management and computer skills should see the best employment opportunities. The states with the highest number of paralegals employed are California, Florida, New York, Texas and Illinois.
Varied Salaries for Paralegals
Salaries for paralegals vary from state to state. According to a May 2013 BLS report, paralegals across the nation earned an average annual wage of $47,570 while those in the lowest ten percent earned $29,740. Paralegals in the highest ninety percent earned $76,960. The states where the highest wages are earned by paralegals are the District of Columbia, California, Alaska, New Jersey and Oregon.
The highest mean annual wage of $73,050 was earned in the District of Columbian while the lowest wages were in Arizona where the wage was $39,660. Paralegals that have multiple certifications, work experience and various skills typically have the highest wage potential. As a rule, paralegal salaries are general higher in larger cities and areas with a higher cost of living. Additionally, paralegals working with corporate law generally make higher earnings as well.
2014 Emerging Trends in the Paralegal Industry
The paralegal industry continues to be a field that offers change and great growth and earning potential. CNN listed paralegals as one of the top 20 jobs for individuals who are looking for career changes. However, despite the faster-than-average employment growth predicted by the BLS, paralegals may see some trends affecting their profession in the coming futures.
Electronic Filing – Electronic filing is one trend that is growing in every industry and is expected to be huge in the courts. Eventually it’s expected to be used exclusively. Paralegals are encouraged to prepare themselves for these changes by learning the Case Management/Electronic Case Files system.
Licensure/Certification – Another trend expected to be seen in the future, according to Paralegal Alliance, is that certification and licensure will be required in more states. To be competitive in the job market may also require more training.
Hiring Practices – In an attempt to keep down costs, many paralegals may work from their homes as much as possible or may be hired on an as-needed basis.
Listed below are some careers that are similar to paralegals along with their average wages and educational requirements.
- Claims Adjustor And Appraiser – $59,850 – High School Diploma & Training
- Occupational Health And Safety Specialists – $66,790 – Bachelor’s Degree
- Lawyers – $113,530 – Doctoral Or Professional Degree
- Occupational Health And Safety Technician – $47,440 – High School Diploma & Training
- Arbitrators And Mediators – $61,280 – Bachelor’s Degree
- Postsecondary Teachers – $68,970 – Bachelor’s Degree
- Private Detectives And Investigators – $45,470 – High School Diploma And Some Training
- Financial Examiners – $75,800 – Bachelor’s Degree
- Police And Detectives – $56,980 – High School Diploma And Police Training