A paralegal is a legal assistant who helps lawyers or attorneys with their legal work. A paralegal has many duties, such as conducting research for the attorney, drafting legal documents, interviewing clients and witnesses, and organizing evidence for trials.
There are several steps you need to take to become a paralegal.
1. Have an Associate’s Degree or Bachelor’s Degree
The first step to becoming a paralegal is to get the right education. In some cases, an associate’s degree may be okay, but a general college degree or certificate in paralegal studies is typically required for entry-level positions.
Paralegals can pursue their education through an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program, as well as a more specialized certificate program. These programs provide students with coursework in legal research, civil procedure, contracts, and other areas of law.
2. Determine Your Field of Specialization
Paralegals can specialize in different areas of law, such as real estate, family law, corporate law, immigration, and criminal defense. It’s recommended to research the area of practice that interests you the most and determine what kind of education or experience you need to become a qualified paralegal in that field.
However, you may not think carefully about the area you want to work in your first job as a paralegal. As employers may hire college graduates with no legal experience and train them when doing the job.
3. Gain National Paralegal Certifications
It is recommended to get certified by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). NALA offers two levels of certification: the Certified Paralegal (CP) and the Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP). When you apply for paralegal jobs, having a certification will help you stand out from the competition because it will demonstrate your expertise in the field.
4. Obtain State Paralegal Certifications
You can also choose to obtain state-level certifications to work as a paralegal. Requirements for these certifications vary from state to state, but most require that candidates have a college degree in paralegal studies and pass an exam. Check your local laws for the exact requirements in your area.
5. Consider Working Under the Supervision of a Lawyer
Although some paralegals may be able to start working independently after gaining certification, it is recommended to work as an assistant or legal secretary under the supervision of a lawyer in order to gain practical experience. This will also provide a great opportunity to learn more about the intricacies of particular legal areas and practice essential skills.
Work experience in this field is very important for paralegals as most employers prefer to hire candidates with at least two years of professional experience. This can help you build your resume, network with other attorneys and legal assistants, and develop the skills you need to be a successful paralegal.
6. Complete a Bachelor of Law
To boost your employability and expand your further career opportunities, you may consider completing a bachelor’s degree in law. A Bachelor of Law (LLB) is an undergraduate degree that usually takes three to four years to complete, depending on the university you attend.
This type of degree provides you with a comprehensive understanding of all areas of law and can be used as a stepping stone for further studies or practice.
Becoming a paralegal is an exciting opportunity for those interested in the field of law. With the right education, certifications, and work experience, you can pursue a successful career as a paralegal.