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Paralegal career information
Should I become a paralegal?
Becoming a paralegal can be a rewarding career path for those interested in working within the legal system. All Criminal Justice Schools has compiled the most current and complete information on the paralegal profession in order to help you better understand the career, its requirements and associated job duties.
With lawyers using paralegals to make their work more efficient and cost-effective, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) current Occupational Outlook Handbook predicts the occupation to grow by 14% through 2031, adding 45,800 jobs each year. As of 2021, there were 352,800 paralegals and legal assistants in the field. This faster-than-average growth is a result of paralegals “taking on a ‘hybrid’ role in legal services, performing not only traditional paralegal duties but also tasks previously assigned to legal secretaries or other legal support workers,” says the BLS.
There are set educational requirements and ethical standards you’ll need to meet to become a paralegal, yet there’s a reason why thousands of people pursue paralegal work every year—and the current need for paralegals is just one of the many positive reasons.
Starting your career as a paralegal
What’s the best path towards becoming a paralegal? Some paralegals enter the field with on-the-job training, but as jobs get more competitive, getting a specialized education may be key. Employers are looking for highly-trained workers with a portfolio of skills, and they may prefer candidates who specialize in certain areas of the law such as tax law, family law or malpractice.
Peter Smart, a legal assistant and Juris Doctorate candidate for John K. Zaid & Associates law firm in Houston, Texas, says “From what I have observed, legal assistants and paralegals in general have a better opportunity for gaining employment with experience in a specific focus of law, especially when they choose to apply to future jobs within that same specific area of study.”
While working in a law office or other legal organization can teach you about specific paralegal duties, it’s also a good opportunity to hone your communication skills, computer skills and research and organizational skills. These generalized skill sets will be helpful to succeed as a paralegal.
Once you’ve finished your schooling, you’re ready to enter the legal job market and start your paralegal career. Unlike some career paths, certification isn’t mandatory to become a paralegal but is dependent on state or jurisdiction of practice. Still, earning a credential can showcase your knowledge and skills in the field as well as give hiring firms confidence in your abilities. One of the most prominent organizations that offers certification is the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), who offer the Certified Paralegal (CP) certification and other advanced credentials.
Skills you’ll need
Paralegals are well-compensated for the work they do, but you’ll need the following skills and qualities to succeed:
- Close attention to detail:
- Writing reports with accurate legal terminology and events is essential to any contract or evidential statement.
- Computer and technology savvy:
- The majority of your work will be on a computer so the more you know about legal software and computers, the better off you’ll be.
- Excellent research and writing skills:
- Legal language and good grammar are critical skills in a paralegal career.
- Good interpersonal skills:
- You’ll be working with people constantly, from the office to the courtroom, so having excellent communication is a must.
- Hard working:
- A case may be large or small, and require little or lots of time to research, write and support the legal team. You’ll often be under pressure to get things done accurately and quickly.
- Highly organized:
- You may have a case load that requires you to bounce from one file to another. Keeping everything in order and pertinent to each client is essential.
A high quality paralegal will have a variety of skill sets and knowledge within the legal field as well as business administration and office management skills. Smart comments “Every high-functioning paralegal that I have interacted with has a great balance in understanding about the intricacies of the legal system matched with a good understanding of office management, morale and business.”
One of the best ways to experience what a paralegal does while receiving required training is to participate in an internship while you’re still in school. If you’re interested in gaining practical experience before graduating, look for a program that offers an internship program. In many cases you can receive course credit for the time spent at your internship.
An internship offers students a chance to participate in day-to-day paralegal tasks. If you’re interested in a particular type of law, look for an internship at a related law services agency. NALA notes that many paralegals work in a range of practice areas, while 16% said they worked in one specialty area. The top three current specialties for the paralegal job market are litigation-civil, corporate and contract law.
Here are a few examples of internship settings:
- Private law firms
- Government agency
- Office of the attorney general
- Office of a public defender
- Corporate legal department
- Legal aid organization
What you’ll do as a paralegal intern
While every organization is different, paralegal interns typically provide support to staff paralegals, lawyers and other roles within the law firm or organization. This may include tasks such as:
- Organizing files
- Paper and electronic file administration
- Preparing reports
- Updating records and prepping legal research notebooks
Be sure computer and database management skills are included, as paralegals with this skill set could expect to have the best job prospects. Another way to differentiate yourself is to gain experience in a high-demand area of law with a specialized focus.
More paralegal career information
- Paralegal Salaries:
- Law firms are the largest employer of paralegals, but what is the median annual salary for paralegals?
- Paralegals vs. Legal Assistants:
- These terms are often considered synonymous. However, recent efforts by the National Association of Legal Assistants to clarify the roles could change that.
- Paralegal Certification:
- Paralegal certification is voluntary, but certified paralegals may be viewed more favorably by some employers.
- Paralegal Degrees and Programs:
- Depending on your needs and goals, you can start a paralegal career with a paralegal certificate, associate’s, or online paralegal degree. Here are the benefits of each.
- Paralegal Accreditation:
- Get answers about accreditation. Find out which organizations accredit paralegal programs and how important accreditation is to your future employer.