How to Become a Paralegal

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If you have an iPhone, download our free app on the Apple App Store for unlimited access to videos about paralegals and hundreds of other professions. For Android users, a light version is available to download on Google Play with videos coming soon!

The paralegal field is projected to grow 8% in the years between 2014 and 2024. Paralegals help support lawyers by conducting legal research, organizing documents, gathering evidence during case preparation, and calling clients, witnesses, and lawyers for interviews.

1. Decide if becoming a paralegal is right for you.

 

While paralegals are not permitted to practice law, they are directly involved in the legal process. Paralegals work full-time and are expected to assist lawyers in gathering information, documents, and interviews in preparation for any legal proceedings. Paralegals must possess excellent communication, organization, and research skills.

There are different areas of law in which paralegals can work. Corporate paralegals carry out duties such as helping prepare important documents for businesses and reviewing laws to make sure corporations are aware of important changes. Litigation paralegals perform research, draft legal documents, and assist lawyers in trial preparation. Immigration paralegals conduct the necessary research and interviews to help individuals obtain a visa and prepare and draft legal documents. Other specialties include: family law paralegal, intellectual property paralegal, nurse paralegal, and more.

2. Complete your undergraduate degree.

Most employers will require at least a bachelor’s degree upon hire. However, not many bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies are offered. If a paralegal studies program is not offered at a university, students can choose an alternative major and pursue a paralegal studies certificate in addition to their bachelor’s degree.

Recommended alternatives to Paralegal Studies include: Law, Political Science, Communication, Psychology, History, and English Language and Literature. A paralegal studies certification program helps teach students practical skills such as methods of legal research. This can help individuals stand out and be more competitive when looking for jobs.

3. Gain experience.

Pursuing internship opportunities at a law firm or nonprofit is a great way to gain professional experience throughout your undergraduate career. Through these opportunities, you will be able to hone your professional skills in addition to gaining a better understanding of the day-to-day responsibilities of a paralegal.

4. Get certified.

While certifications are certainly not required, they can help paralegals further their knowledge in certain legal fields and make them more competitive when searching for a job. Most certifications are awarded only after individuals complete their bachelor’s degree.

The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers the Certified Paralegal Program. The exam evaluates paralegals’ knowledge of Communication, Legal Ethics, Judgment & Analytical Ability, Legal Research, and Substantive Law.

NALA also offers the Advanced Paralegal Certification, a web-based curriculum that is organized in modules to help paralegals continue their professional education. In order to enroll in this program, paralegals must pass the Certified Paralegal exam. Each course takes around 20 hours to complete. Advanced level courses in subjects such as Trademarks, Social Security, Disability, and Estate Planning are offered through NALA.

The Association for Legal Professionals (NALS), offers the Accredited Legal Professional Certification which is a 4-hour, 3 part exam. The Written Communications and Legal Knowledge sections of the exam assess test takers’ abilities to perform business communication tasks, understand legal terminology, maintain office records, and more. The third section of the exam (Ethics, Human Relations and Judgement) evaluates individuals’ knowledge of law office protocol and ethical codes.

In order to qualify to take this exam, individuals must either complete an accredited legal course, complete the NALS Legal Training Course, or obtain one year of work experience. After passing all 3 sections of the exams, individuals are granted a certificate which is valid for up to 5 years.

4. Maintain certification.

After successfully becoming certified, paralegals may have to apply for recertification as is the case for the Accredited Legal Professional certification. Some ways recertification can be achieved include completing continuing education requirements or involvement in professional development events.

Laws and legal practices are subject to change. Aside from maintaining your certification, it is important that you stay up to date on the professional practices of the paralegal field. Recertification requirements vary from program to program so it is important that you check with a specific organization to verify the ways recertification is achieved.


 

To learn more, check out these videos from PathSource to hear what real paralegals have to say!

PARALEGAL: Why I became a paralegal

PARALEGAL: We Look At Problems Within The Criminal Justice System

IMMIGRATION PARALEGAL: A Lot Of Responsibility

If you have an iPhone, download our free app on the Apple App Store for unlimited access to videos about paralegals and hundreds of other professions. For Android users, a light version is available to download on Google Play with videos coming soon!

Lauren Gong, PathSource Intern


 

 

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