02 June, 2012

How to Get Started as a Paralegal

Legal assistants such as paralegals support lawyers by doing a variety of tasks. Duties vary depending on the size of the organization; the paralegals generally help in investigating the facts of the case, research, report writing, and help lawyers during trials. There are even various types of paralegals such as corporate paralegals and litigation paralegals. There are several different ways make this your own career path.


Paralegals must hold either an associate degree or bachelor's degree. Many community colleges have associate degree programs for aspiring paralegals. There are also colleges and universities that offer bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees in paralegals studies. There are even certificate programs that provide paralegal training for people who already have a college degree. Although rare, some employers hire paralegals with no education or experience in the field, but train them on the job. However, most paralegal jobs require a bachelor’s degree.

Students within these programs can expect to learn about legal research, the legal applications of computers, and other academic subjects. In order to become a good paralegal, students must be familiar with using computers for legal research and litigation support. Paralegals need interpersonal skills as they spend a lot of time working with clients and other professionals. As they work with many cases at a single time, they must be adaptive and have strong organizational skills. They must also learn how to speak and write effectively to document their work and relate their information to others.

Student should also consider taking an internship to gain experience working in a private law firm, government agency, or other setting within the field of law. Students who have completed an internship likely have better technical skills and better employment prospects.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 1,000 colleges and universities who offer paralegal training programs, but only about 720 of them are approved by the American Bar Association.

While not required work in the field, paralegal certification can help with gaining employment. Students can gain certification through different paralegal organizations by passing an exam. Certification can also be acquired by those who meet certain experience and education criteria. 

Those who are hired directly without any legal education or experience are typically trained on the job. Most people in this situation have other skills that are useful to law firms, such as criminal justice or tax preparation.

Most employers like employees to have at least one year of experience within the legal field. Technical understanding of a specific legal specialty can also be helpful to candidates. Work experience is particularly important for those without any formal training.


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