How to Become a Paralegal in California: Schools & Certification Guide

There is a steady interest in becoming a paralegal in California. In May 2013, the Bureau of Legal Statistics reported that California has 29,720 paralegals in employment, the largest in the US. Their work are scattered throughout the northern and southern regions of CA, including, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Orange Country.

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Their work varies from being involved in legal and government services, natural resource management, software publishing, and for educational support services.

Paralegal Certification Requirements

Despite the quick transition into being a paralegal, there are still a few paralegal certification requirements that you have to meet before you can get employed. It’s not as tedious as the requirements for becoming a lawyer, but they’re still your stepping-stones towards your new career.

The California State Legislature set qualifications for those who wish to become paralegals in 2001. The qualifications are:

  • Must have completed at least 24 units of paralegal education from an accredited or state-approved institution.
  • Must have completed a bachelor’s degree (any field) with one-year experience in law while under the supervision of a California-based lawyer with a minimum of 3 years tenure or a lawyer who is employed by any federal court in California.
  • A certificate if completion from a paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).

Prior to that, a bachelor’s degree wasn’t really required. A person can have a high school diploma or a GED and 3 years of law-related experience before they can become a paralegal. This was changed after legal document assistants or LDAs identified themselves as paralegals. Despite the similarities of their work, the two occupations differ in training and qualifications, hence the need for the California State Legislature to modify the requirements for paralegals.

Networking While Learning – As much as possible, meet a lot of people while you’re still in your paralegal certification program. The best way to learn is watching people you admire in action. It also helps if you take as many electives as you can, as this will be your safety blanket when you finish. If a job for one branch of the law is not available, you can practice another one that you’re familiar with.

ABA Approved Paralegal Programs & Training

A lot of traditional duties by lawyers are now being done by paralegals. It’s a well-paying job, with a great potential for you to broaden your knowledge in communications, legal research, and critical thinking.

There are legislative requirements that you need to fulfill before you become a paralegal, hence, you should be very selective when it comes to the choice of paralegal programs that you’re going to attend. If you’re keen on practicing your profession immediately, or you already have a degree but still interested in paralegal studies, you can enroll at a certificate program.

These programs provide you with a certificate of completion, albeit, not a degree. Your chosen program should also be approved by the American Bar Association or the ABA. This part is easy, as most colleges and universities in California with a law school usually have paralegal programs approved by the ABA.

Aside from getting a degree or a certificate, paralegals can opt to have national certification granted by the national professional paralegal associations. This certification serves as proof that an individual had fulfilled and mastered all the national requirements and is competent in the field.

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If you’re a certified paralegal, this means that you have passed a national exam and is a bearer of a certificate provided by a national paralegal association.

If you’re a paralegal in California, you can call yourself a California Advanced Specialist if you’ve passed the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) and California Advanced Specialty (CAS) exams from the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).

Passing these exams will pave the way for more opportunities for better employment and salaries.

Paralegal Schools in CA

More and more people are choosing to become paralegals instead of going to law school, mainly because of the quick employment and financial benefits. Lawyers are required to complete at least seven years of education and take the bar exam before they can practice.

On the other hand, being a paralegal only requires a few months to a couple of years of study. This is one of the biggest deciding factors that people put into mind when they’re choosing on what path to take in the field of legal management.

There are countless of paralegal schools in California that can provide you with different degree and certificate programs concerning paralegal studies, and a lot of them gives you the freedom to choose your own specialty. Some of these schools include:

  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • University of California, Santa Barbara
  • California State University, Los Angeles
  • Los Angeles City College (Los Angeles)
  • Miramar College (San Diego)

After school you should strongly seek an internship position with a local law firm or the legal department of a near by corporation.

Be An Intern – Your school or institution is most likely to have an internship program available. This could also give you more chances to network in various departments like corporate law firms or government offices. This is an opportunity for you to show you skills in communication and being a leader to those who can help you snag a job.

Paralegal Salary Outlook & Income

For 2015, the average paralegal salary in California is $22.50 per hour, depending on the firm. This salary can also change based on your years of experience and what area of expertise you’re in. It’s also possible that salaries for paralegals in San Diego might not be as high as the salaries of those in Los Angeles.

You should consider things like the cost of living in area, which can greatly affect one’s salary. If you think about it, being a paralegal in California pays quite well, regardless of the area.

You should also consider the type of job that you’ll get as a paralegal in Cali. Most paralegals opt to work under law firms, but there are also those who choose government organizations and private businesses. If you’re located in a particularly populous area, expect to work under large corporations and businesses.

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Remember though, that the best job that you can get as a paralegal is the one that you enjoy the most. There are a bunch of different areas that you can practice in, just choose one that really interests you.