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How to become a paralegal in New York
It’s no wonder New York is the state with the second largest employment of paralegals and legal assistants in the country given New York City’s occasional designation as the capital of the world and close proximity to Washington D.C., the hub of federal government and law. As one of the biggest global hubs of finance, media and culture, jobs in the legal realm are bound to follow.
Most states do not have any certification or licensure requirements to be a paralegal, and New York is no exception. However, you may still be left wondering how to pursue a paralegal career in the Empire State.
How to become a paralegal in New York in 4 steps
Earn a degree.
Most paralegal jobs want to see that you have some post secondary education. Earning an associate or bachelor’s degree from a paralegal studies program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) would benefit any prospective paralegal. That being said, a degree in paralegal studies is not required, and you may prefer to study a similar subject like criminal justice, business, communications or something else.
Consider earning a professional certificate from a paralegal program (optional).
If you have a degree in something other than paralegal studies, a paralegal certificate approved by the ABA can be a great way to supplement that education and demonstrate to employers that you have the necessary skills to be a successful paralegal. These programs typically require that applicants already have an associate or bachelor’s degree. These certificate programs can also be a boon to existing paralegals who simply want to advance their credentials.
The best way to move up in your paralegal career is to simply start gaining experience. Some employers look at experience more than they look at someone’s education—it all depends on the preferences of the company or firm.
Consider becoming a New York State Certified Paralegal (NYSCP).
If you want to improve your credibility even further, you might consider becoming a New York State Certified Paralegal (NYSCP). This voluntary certification is offered by the Empire State Alliance of Paralegal Associations (ESAPA). Unlike some states, this certification does not require taking a test. As long as you can satisfy their qualifying criteria, you can apply.
Education and experience
Although there are no universal requirements to be a paralegal in New York, most employers want you to have some post secondary education. Earning an associate or bachelor’s degree, especially in paralegal studies, would be advantageous.
Cristy Torrelli, a paralegal with 15 years of experience and President of the Western New York Paralegal Association, switched from a career in dental hygiene and decided to get an associate degree in paralegal studies. She said that it was worth it, especially because of some wonderful professors she had, but graduating from a paralegal studies program didn’t necessarily prepare her to hit the ground running right away.
“They teach you the fundamentals, where law came from, this is how you’re supposed to do a trial, this how you’re supposed to write a brief—but they don’t tell you the everyday ins-and-outs of working for each individual attorney or firm,” Torrelli said. “A degree will get you in the door for an interview. A degree will get you looked at, but the degree doesn’t define what the expectations are of the individual firm or attorney.”
If you don’t get a degree in paralegal studies, a paralegal certificate program approved by the ABA is another option. These certificate programs can supplement your existing education and can help prepare you for the job duties of a paralegal.
“Hands-on experience is key in this field,” Torrelli said, which is why it can be difficult landing a job earlier on in your career even if you have a paralegal studies degree or certificate. She suggested doing an internship at a law office or taking other jobs, such as a legal secretary or legal assistant, to get some exposure to the work environment. “Finding in your area a staffing agent that specializes in the legal field is an amazing asset.”
Torrelli also said that being self-motivated and going out of your way to research what you need to be successful in a particular position goes a long way. “In 15 years, I have taught myself more than any college could teach me. If you have drive and motivation, can work individually and independently, if you can take it upon yourself to not ask questions until you have exhausted everything else, then yes, you can make it as a paralegal.”
New York State Certified Paralegal
Becoming a NYSCP is a completely voluntary certification, but it could be advantageous in the job market. It demonstrates to employers that you have a combination of education and experience relevant to the duties of a paralegal. You don’t need to pass an exam to earn your certification, you simply need to apply. In order to qualify, you must satisfy one of the following requirements:
- Pass the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) through the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. or the Certified Paralegal Exam through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- Associate degree in paralegal studies from an institutionally accredited school + six years of paralegal experience
- Associate degree in any subject from an institutionally accredited school and a certificate from a paralegal program + six years of paralegal experience
- Associate degree in any subject from an institutionally accredited school + ten years of paralegal experience
- Bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies from an institutionally accredited school + three years of paralegal experience
- Bachelor’s degree in any subject from an institutionally accredited school and a certificate from a paralegal program + three years of paralegal experience
- Bachelor’s degree in any subject from an institutionally accredited school + six years of paralegal experience
There are also a few other qualifying factors for people with military experience or those who have over ten years of paralegal experience.
Continuing education requirements
Paralegals who have the NYSCP designation must renew their certification every two years. NYSCP paralegals must earn at least 12 Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits every two years to satisfy the requirements for renewal. At least one of the required credits must be in ethics.
New York paralegal salary
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the New York City/Newark metropolitan area employs the largest number of paralegals in the country by far at 29,240, with Los Angeles coming in second with nearly half that number at 14,810. Although the New York City/Newark metro area does not rank in the top ten paying metro areas in the country, it has a greater annual wage than the national annual median wage.
Behind New York City/Newark, the metro areas of Albany, Kingston and Binghampton rank next as the top paying areas in the state. Take a look at salaries in the state of New York for paralegals.
Median Hourly Wage$29
|Metro area||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA||$60,620||$38,580||$98,070|
|Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY||$47,570||$36,810||$70,160|
|Glens Falls, NY||$46,700||$29,040||$62,700|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
Aside from accruing experience over time, there are some other ways to increase your chances of earning a higher salary as a paralegal.
Torrelli said that working towards a certification (such as a NYSCP) and joining a local paralegal association can both be beneficial. She also said that any prospective paralegal should cultivate strong language skills in reading, grammar and writing, since that is the bulk of what you are doing day to day.
Above all, fostering positive connections and earning your keep is going to make a difference in your ability to move up in your career. “Your reputation in the field speaks for itself,” Torrelli said.