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One of the foundations of American society is commitment to the rule of law. When a criminal breaks the law or there is a legal dispute between civilians or companies, the court system is there to determine guilt, settle conflicts and establish justice.
If you’re committed to working within the legal field and are looking for something shorter term and lower commitment than law school, becoming a paralegal is a great way to participate in the legal system and play a key role in any law firm.
What paralegals do
Paralegal work is one of the most popular choices among legal careers because it offers job flexibility and stability. Law firms use paralegal services because they are less expensive than lawyers when it comes to legal labor.
Paralegals support attorneys in the litigation process, during mediation and depositions, during “discovery” and even provide support through trial and post-trial settlements. They must work well individually and as part of a team, and are often expected to meet tight deadlines. Paralegals also offer their technological expertise to team members within the firm while maintaining high ethical standards in their practice.
Although most paralegals work in law firms that may specialize in litigation, there are many other specialties to choose from. The legal area of specialty that’s right for you depends on your personality and the type of work you want to do. Here are some popular paralegal specialties and their area of focus:
- Corporate Law
- Family Law
- Immigration Law
- Labor and Employment
- Patents and Trademarks
- Wills and Estates
The specialty you choose depends on many things: what subjects you liked or excelled at in school, the first paralegal job you found, an influential mentor or simply what you want to do with your career.
Once you’ve earned your degree or certificate you can always begin the process to hone your interests and skills to a particular paralegal specialty. Several agencies offer professional certification to help you achieve this milestone.
It’s nearly impossible to describe each paralegal job description here, but check some of our articles and interviews to see what paralegals do in their chosen specialty. Then, if being a paralegal seems like the right career for you, we’re here to help you find the paralegal training you need.
Paralegal education and programs
Earning your paralegal degree gives you the foundation of knowledge and skills to succeed in the workplace. Paralegal programs are offered at community colleges, colleges, universities and specialty schools across the country, and programs are available in traditional and online formats.
Wherever you study, and whether you earn your paralegal certificate online or in a classroom, your teachers will often be lawyers with years of experience who love what they do and want to share what they’ve learned. These interactions can be priceless, as they can lead to becoming the best potential candidate once you enter the job market. Earning your education from an accredited institution can serve you best as you progress in your paralegal career, as it offers not only the education, but the networking and insight you often need to succeed. An accredited program may also help you get financial aid for your schooling.
There are a of couple ways to get your paralegal training. Some people pursue an associate degree (two years) or they pursue a bachelor’s degree (four years) in paralegal studies. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in another area and want to become a paralegal, a paralegal certificate is a custom-fit option. Paralegal certificates vary in length and requirements from state to state, but generally require a base amount of credit hours in a related field of study. The time needed to complete your program or education can depend on a variety of factors such as scheduling, cost and the amount of study hours one can invest weekly.
If you have questions about specific programs, it helps to have resources to allow you to make informed decisions, and you can also contact your school’s academic advisor or program department head for answers to your questions.
Highlighted states for paralegal pathways
Certain states can be easier or more difficult to get started in a paralegal career. Here are some highlighted states to help you make the best decision about your career, based on where you live.
California: the largest employer of paralegals in the nation, with a variety of educational pathways to paralegal.
Florida: a state with no minimum education or experience requirement to start a paralegal career.
Illinois: paralegals in Illinois, and specifically Chicago, find that some employers prefer ABA-approved programs.
New York: the second largest employer of paralegals in the U.S., and voluntary state certification is available.
Texas: the Lone Star state encourages paralegals to apply for specialty certification through the TBLS.