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How To Become A Paralegal

If you are wondering how to become a paralegal, you may have many questions.  The first step in becoming a paralegal is understanding exactly what the position entails, and what you can expect out of the career.
A paralegal works very closely with lawyers and handle a variety of tasks.  A paralegal assists lawyers by drafting letters to clients, managing client communications of all types, and conducting research to assist with cases.  They may also handle other tasks as determined by the office they work for.   A paralegal is similar to a legal assistant, but there are differences between the two.  Legal assistants generally focus on the administrative tasks such as filing, researching, and maintaining trial records.  A paralegal, however, requires more background knowledge and research, and often assists with the actual casework and trial preparation.

 

How much do they make?

The pay and benefits associated with a paralegal position can vary greatly depending on where the office is located, their amount of experience, and the law firm involved.  The salary range can be anywhere between $29,200 and $73,450 per year, but the average is somewhere in the range of $46,000 per year.  The actual benefits received often depend on whether the employee is considered full or part time.  Most full time benefits include vacation and sick time, health insurance, and retirement benefits.  Some firms may also provide tuition assistance, transportation, childcare, or health memberships, depending on the location and size of the firm.

 

What are the requirements to become a Paralegal?

Now that you are familiar with what a paralegal is, you need to know how to become a paralegal.  The most important aspect of pursuing a paralegal position is obtaining your high school diploma or General Education Diploma.  Paralegals require higher education, so you must have your diploma before you can move further.

The next step in becoming a paralegal is to determine whether you are going to pursue an Associates or Bachelors degree in Paralegal studies.  The difference between the two degrees is the amount of time each takes, and the benefits associated with each.  An Associate’s degree is usually a two-year degree, and the Bachelor’s generally takes four years to complete.  While the decision of how long you want to spend in school is a personal one, it is important to understand that they more education you have, the better your job prospects will be.  Another significant factor in choosing how and where to pursue your degree is whether the school is approved by the American Bar Association.  Many employers do not require a degree from an approved school, but choosing to get your education from an ABA approved institution could make you more valuable to future employers over those who attended schools that were not approved.

As with many other professions, most employers prefer applicants who have some previous experience in the legal field.  While this may be frustrating, there are a few different ways of getting this experience.  You can choose to work in an administrative capacity at a law firm, where you would be handling telephones, working as a paralegal assistant, or filing and data entry.  You can also choose to work an internship in a law office as well.  Many schools provide internships as part of the degree process, or you can reach out to local law firms and ask if they will allow you to intern with them.

Certification is also important for paralegals, even though it is not a requirement for all firms.  Paralegal certification can take from 6 months to one year, and will teach you valuable hands on skills that will benefit you even more when you become a paralegal.  Many certification programs offer the paralegal certification exam, but some do not.  If your program does not offer the certification examination, you should contact the National Association of Legal Assistants to find out where you can take the exam in your area.

 

How To Become A Paralegal

Tips to get hired. 

After completing all of the education requirements, you are finally ready to begin finding a position with the law firm of your choice.  Paralegal openings are often listed in job listings and newspapers.  You can also reach out to the firms in your area to see if they are hiring.  When you have found a firm that you are interested in, you should send them a professional resume along with a cover letter describing your skills and accomplishments, and your desired rate of pay.

Is there much of a demand for Paralegals?

Paralegals are becoming more in demand, which means competition can be quite fierce in some areas, especially larger cities.  You should plan on applying to as many positions as possible in your area, and plan on attending several interviews before you actually get the job.  This competition is what makes it so important for you to make good decisions on your education.  Candidates who have Bachelor’s degrees and their paralegal certification are simply more sought after because of their increased amount of knowledge and abilities.  While you can still find jobs without the top levels of education, you are more likely to get hired, and gain a higher rate of pay with the proper degree and certification.

 

Standing out from the crowd.

Understanding how to become a paralegal is very important, but it is also a good idea to make sure you have certain personal qualities as well in order to be successful.  Multi-tasking skills are of utmost importance as you will be in a rather fast paced position.  Paralegals also require great communication skills in order to deal with clients quickly and effectively.  You should also be comfortable and proficient with using computers.  Many law firms use legal software and computers for a large majority of their work, and being familiar with these programs ahead of time could place you higher than other candidates that are being considered.

Deciding to become a paralegal may seem like a long process, but in reality it is comparable to many other positions.  The growing demand for these positions makes this an excellent choice for anyone who is trying to decide on a fulfilling career in the law industry.

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