So, you’ve made a decision that you prefer to become a legal assistant. You’re someone who likes to study law; you think fast, you have impeccable attention towards details, and you enjoy conducting researches.
You have several options on how to become a paralegal:
- Earning a certificate or degree
- Finding employment in a legal setting, such as becoming a secretary for a law firm, or even a clerk at your local courthouse
- Or; finding a job that will train you as you go on
How can I become a Paralegal?
There’s been a rise in the number of people who want to pursue a career in being a paralegal. Most of the time, people would say that it’s more affordable than attending law school and at the same time provides them with a faster method of working in the legal field. Of course, there’s also the salary of $29,917 – $64,674 (see the latest 2015 survey by NALA) that attracts potential candidates. Obtaining a degree or certificate can definitely put you on the top of other candidates who want to kick-start their careers.
Of course, before you do that, you should ask yourself these questions:
- What are your plans once you are licensed?
- Do you have the budget to attend school? If not, are you eligible for any scholarships or loans?
- What kind of education do you require based on what you’ve already finished?
- What are the requirements of your state before you become a certified paralegal?
- How are the career prospects in your target area?
Are there any professional skills I should know?
While you’re still waiting to finish your education, it’s highly recommended that you develop skills via a local organization that help train you for your paralegal career.
- Writing Skills – Having a strong skill in written communication is required for all paralegal duties, mainly due to the fact that most of the work that they work on, such as drafts, pleadings, briefs, motions, correspondence, and contracts should all be in written form. You must be a master when it comes to grammar and punctuation, as well as being persuasive in writing.
- Researching – You can learn this via your classes, but you can always out in more effort to be better in doing researches. There are workshops and seminars that you can attend that would help with your skills. Look for local events that you can join.
- Computer Skills – Because of the fast-paced world of technology, it’s no surprise that lawyers and legal assistants are now using computers for almost everything. Paralegals are expected to know a how to use word processors, database softwares, spreadsheets, presentations, and of course, the Internet.
- Oral Communication – As a legal assistant, you will be required to work directly with lawyers, their clients, and various other professionals in the field. You need to develop strength in oral communication for that. You can attend workshops or classes that can help you communicate more effectively and confidently.
How long does it take become a Paralegal?
Paralegal programs are typically offered in many local school such as community colleges or universities. There are some that have chosen to attend community colleges and get an associate’s degree, but there are also others who attend a 4-year bachelor’s or master’s degree related to legal aid and related fields.
They differentiate in course length, but the programs all train a student for a career in being a paralegal. You will learn about research method used for legal proceedings, as well as how to use a legal database.
Typical programs usually lasts for about 2 to four years, depending on what kind of degree (associate’s or bachelor’s) a student wants. As for a master’s, it takes about 4 semester or 2 years. There are also certificate programs that can take only a few months to obtain.
What’s the benefit of interning?
Interning is a great way for you to network and meet people from the same field. It’s an advantage that you should make use of due to the fact that it can help advance your career in the future, thanks to potential contacts and people who can become your references or provide you with letters of recommendation. If you’re already enrolled, you can approach a job counselor and ask them about potential offices, corporations, or government branches that take in paralegal interns.
Some people are a bit skeptical when it comes to pursuing their education from an online institute—mainly because they don’t know if they can still continue with their day job and if they could afford the tuition fee, as well as how credible they are. However, it’s best if you go ahead and do research about any options that you have regarding loans and law scholarships that you’re qualified for in your town or state.
Most of the time, there are programs that allow the students the flexibility to continue working, such as those that only conduct classes during the evenings or weekends, or online programs from certain universities. This will help make question of of how long it will take a less stressing concern since you can keep your steady income while studying towards your new career path.