How Do I Become a Paralegal?

Deciding to become a Paralegal is a great way to start a career in the field of legal studies. Paralegals work alongside lawyers or attorneys conducting research pertaining to laws, regulations, and policies. They also assist inside the courtroom, making sure the lawyer has everything needed for each case.  In some cases, a legal assistant is just a stepping stone position for the graduate who plans to continue their education in law school.  In addition, many paralegals will find employment in a number of areas where legal assistants are much needed. Below is a list of some tips helpful to start on the path toward a rewarding paralegal career. 

Educational Requirements for Paralegals

In most cases, paralegals will have at least an associate degree or certificate in paralegal studies when they first start looking for work. However, a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies could be more helpful or accepted, yet not required by every employer. Although earning a bachelor’s in paralegal studies may provide graduates with career advancement opportunities. For paralegals who plan to move on to law school, then a BS in Paralegal studies is a great prerequisite. 

Enrolling in a paralegal program

After deciding which degree best fits your educational goals (certificate, associates, or bachelor’s), next choose the right institution. Students should look at flexibility, affordability, and the top training and skills offered. Providing real-world experiences is highly beneficial to the student’s overall experience in the program. To know more about the skills needed to become a paralegal, check out the BLS website.

Also, keep in mind that not all degrees related to legal studies are ABA-approved. And, normally students do not necessarily need to earn one that is. However, it does help to consider attending an ABA-approved school that will offer the right recommendations for the student once he/she graduates from the paralegal program. 

Obtain professional experience as a paralegal

The first option after completing or during your degree is to find the best work environment as a legal assistant. In some cases, a student who is still working toward their professional degree may receive the experience they are searching for through an internship. The upside to an internship is that most of the time they are part-time and offer flexible work schedules. This is helpful for students who need to work while completing their studies. 

Choose a Paralegal Specialty

Many students in a legal studies degree will find that focusing on specialties is useful when it comes closer to graduation. Students may develop specific interests within the field. These may include areas in both the public and private sectors. For example, private sectors may work on intriguing employee benefit plans, shareholder agreements, financial reporting, or labor regulations. Those in the public sector of the legal system may work for government agencies or large organizations. 

Another option for graduates of a paralegal program is to go into business for themselves, as a freelancer. Doing this will allow the graduate to choose their own clients and determine which types of jobs to take. Many freelancers will work for a variety of workplaces, such as law firms, government-run agencies, or law organizations. 

Networking Yourself

The last step in becoming a Paralegal is knowing how to network yourself. Letting the right people know you are ready to put your skills to the test and apply everything you learned from school is the key to finding the right job. One way to do so is to attend career fairs or events. Many employers will be there and eager to hear what you have to say. Once a student completes all these steps, they may be well prepared to accept the position wherever they are most needed. Students can also connect to their professors for advice on preparing for the paralegal field.

The Career and Salary Outlook for a Paralegal

So, once you have an associate degree or certification in paralegal studies under your belt; now let’s see how much is it really worth. According to the BLS, the median annual salary wage for either paralegals or legal assistants was $51,740 as of 2019. Depending on the job location, some professionals in the field make slightly more than others. However, they pay on average ranges from $32,160 to as high as $82,500 annually. Here are the top industries where most legal assistants work and their average pay scale, according to the BLS.

Federal government$67,080
Finance and insurance$64,190
Local government, excluding education and hospitals$51,030
Legal services$49,630
State government, excluding education and hospitals$46,820