The ultimate guide to becoming a paralegal
If you’ve always been interested in pursuing a career in law, it might be time to look at becoming a paralegal. A paralegal works in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of the law firm, assisting lawyers, collecting and investigating cases, and drafting motions.
Life as a paralegal is a great insight into the world of law and may give you the edge you need to become a successful lawyer in your field.
What is a paralegal?
Paralegals are typically lawyer’s assistants. You’ll help them prepare for trials while also maintaining communication between the lawyer and their book of clients. While paralegals can help around the firm, unfortunately, they can’t actually represent the clients themselves. Depending on the type of law firm you find yourself in, you could go from assisting clients with their wills and mortgages one day to interviewing witnesses for criminal cases.
What do paralegals do?
You’ll have to wear a multitude of hats as a paralegal. Daily tasks and responsibilities can massively vary depending on the types of lawyers you’re working with.
Those hoping to be paralegals can expect the following duties:
- Interviewing clients
- Finding witnesses
- Creating deposition summaries
- Attending execution of wills
- Writing legal documents
- Doing legal research and conducting investigations
- Attending trials with attorneys
How much do paralegals earn?
As with most jobs in the US, the salary for a paralegal can hugely vary between states. However, the average salary is around $55,000 a year. Specialist paralegals or those who have worked in the role for several years could find themselves earning up to $80,000.
If you’re just starting out, a typical salary would be $45,000 while you also study to become an attorney (if that’s your overall plan). If you want to specialize or enhance your experience as a paralegal before moving onto promotions to become a lawyer, there are several additional programs you can take and study.
Job satisfaction rates for paralegals
You’ll be pleased to know that paralegals tend to feel satisfied and fulfilled in their jobs. However, there is no doubt that the role can be exceptionally stressful. Job satisfaction for paralegals takes into account several factors and will depend on who you work for, how many cases they’re working on, and how many clients you’re expected to deal with in a week.
Those that are relaxed and composed in high-pressure environments may love the challenge, while others who can be easily overwhelmed would struggle to get to grips with the role.
How to become a paralegal
In order to start a role as a paralegal, most gain an associate’s degree, although some firms will require you to graduate with a bachelor’s (in fact, your career can be seriously restricted without the bachelor’s). Associate degrees can take around two years to complete and can be studied at both university or community college. There are sometimes specific courses for those interested in becoming a paralegal that includes an introduction to law, research techniques, legal ethics, and business communications.
Those that want to specialize may also be able to do modules such as intellectual property, trusts and will writing, immigration or bankruptcy.
As well as academics, paralegals also need a number of personable and soft skills. These include:
- Excelling at writing
- Great communication skills
- The ability to adapt to new technology
- Attention to detail
- Organization skills and flexibility
Once you’ve finished your associate’s program, or if you have spare time during your course, you can find a job in a law firm. This isn’t necessarily a paralegal role, as you’ll still need experience and additional certifications.
Some associate courses will require prospective paralegals to take part in an internship, which means you might already have sealed yourself a job for when you graduate with a firm like Brown and Crouppen St. Louis. Others might want to consider doing a placement or internship before trying to apply for more official roles.
Paralegals don’t have to limit their job search to local law firms either. Banks, insurance companies, corporate businesses, and even government agencies can be options. Although these areas might not seem to have direct links, they can certainly open up a lot of doors in the legal world.
Network and gain experience
While your first job might seem like the be-all and end-all, it’s a good idea to get experience in a variety of firms or organizations that deal with different types of law – so that you have the full skillset when applying for jobs as a paralegal.
The best way to keep gaining experience is through networking or joining a paralegal association. Here you’ll keep up to date with all the industry news, as well as tips and tricks to do your role better. You’ll also find like-minded people and a few job opportunities.
There are three main paralegal associations that you can gain certification from. This includes The National Association of Legal Assistants, the American Allegiance of Paralegals, and the National Federation of Paralegals.
From these associations, you can earn a Professional Paralegal certificate or take an Accredited Legal Professional course. However, in order to gain these certifications, you do have to have several years’ experience in work, which is why your internship and follow-up work is so important.
From here, you’ll be a qualified and certified paralegal. You’ll then be able to apply for official paralegal roles, discuss higher salaries with your current employer, or choose to study a law degree part-time.
The future for Paralegals
It’s good news for anyone looking to become a paralegal, as the job is expected to rise by 12% in demand over the decade. As businesses across the globe – including law firms – aim to increase efficiency, they’ll need more assistants and paralegals on hand to manage the workload.
Plus, as the salary of a paralegal is less than that of a lawyer, law firms looking to cut costs will look to hiring legal assistants instead.
Paralegals may also become in-house counsel for large companies who don’t want to have a legal team on retainer – as this can become pretty costly. That means, as a paralegal, you could find yourself working in insurance, finance, consulting, or even healthcare.