There has never been a better time to become a paralegal than now due to growing client demands and changing legal practice. Paralegals assist attorneys in mundane duties like drafting legal documents or performing legal research. With a more complex range of tasks, paralegal earnings continue to rise with the average salary ranging at about $50,000 per year.
If you are interested in legal practice, but you aren’t sure you want to go to law school, paralegal career is for you. The profession of the paralegal is growing by around 17% between 2012 and 2022 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is faster than the average percentage of growth.
So, what should you do if you want to become a paralegal?
Complete Formal Education
If you are looking for a career as a paralegal, formal education is something that will give you a foot in the field. Choosing the right paralegal school can be challenging. You want to find a program that will ensure job placement after completion and ABA approved paralegal programs are recommended by many. ABA offers a directory of ABA-approved paralegal education programs, and you can search by state.
The first thing to decide is whether you want a certificate program or a degree program. Let’s us look at some of them.
Paralegal Certificate: if you are seeking an entry-level paralegal job, a paralegal certificate can be a good start. Some paralegal employers are even willing to hire applicants with some college credit and certification as a paralegal is looked favorably by the employers. You need to have a high school diploma or equivalent to be admitted to certificate programs. These programs take a few months or one semester to one year to complete. They are a good start and can give open opportunities to rise on the career ladder if you are persistent, but if you are looking for the best opportunity to be hired, you may want to obtain a higher level of education.
Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies: Association degree in paralegal studies is often a minimum requirement for many law firms. These studies take around two years of full-time study to complete. In addition to traditional on-campus studies, you can also pursue online courses if you want to work while studying.
Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies: It is the most common education required for a paralegal. Bachelor’s degrees typically take four years to complete full-time, but you may also find accelerated programs. An important part of bachelor’s studies is the internship as it exposes the student to real-world cases and potential employers. You can study on-campus and online or a combination of both.
Post-Graduate Paralegal Certificates: Those who have a four-year degree in another field and wish to change careers or those who have been in the paralegal field for some time may pursue post-graduate paralegal certificate programs. Usually, a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited institution is required. This is a good opportunity for those who want to strengthen their position in the legal field.
Master’s Degree in Paralegal Studies: A master’s degree is hardly ever a requirement for a paralegal job but is a good opportunity to advance one’s careers. It usually takes two years to complete full-time and can be on-campus or online. It is worth noting that ABA does not approve fully-online paralegal studies so be sure to choose a program to will help you in finding a job.
Is Work Experience a Requirement for a Paralegal Job?
While internship and some work experience are highly valuable for employers, you can still get into the field without any job experience and the right type of education. Here are some tips to help you gain a foot if you have not work experience at all:
- Apply for jobs in areas you have studied
- Tailor your CV to the role
- Work with a paralegal recruitment agency
- Keep an open mind
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