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How To Become A Paralegal: Step-by-Step Guide


If you've decided that a carrier in the paralegal field is right for you, then this information will help you know what to expect. First though, you must enjoy studying law, thinking critically and carrying out research. Those are the basics for becoming a paralegal. But now, how do you build a career in this field? How is it different from a legal assistant?

Here's a quick summary of the difference between a legal assistant vs a paralegal:

There's a lot of confusion about the requirements and qualifications of a legal assistant vs a paralegal officer. Well, according to the National Association of Legal Assistants, there's no big difference between the two since certification is always the same.

NALA has even confirmed that the two terms -- legal assistant and paralegal are often used synonymously. Basically, lawyers and attorneys will often use one term or the other at the workplace. However, those who work in this field must complete their paralegal studies from an accredited institution. The two words would be considered labels referring to the same profession, so there's no difference in the duties expected from each one of the two.

There are 3 routes you can take to become a paralegal. Either:

1) Earn your degree or certificate in that field
2) Find a job that offers on-the-job training for those who want to become paralegals
3) Or find work in the legal field, such as a court clerk or secretary and work your way up

But again, the route you shall take will depend on several factors. It will depend with your state requirements for the job, the job market in your area, your present education level, your affordability to further your education, and your long term goals.

Note

Paralegals cannot offer legal services directly to the public. Instead, they must offer their services under an attorney or an accredited law firm.

The types of paralegals include:

Education

Currently, a number of students are going for certificates and degrees in paralegal programs. This trend has been inspired by the fact that there's huge job opportunity in the job market. More employers are willing to hire paralegals who meet minimum qualifications for the job. Again, the increased salaries for the various positions in the legal field is a driving factor for this trend.

Having a certificate or a degree is basically the entry level for this job. Once you find employment, then you can advance your career in the field to earn even more.

Some people who aspire to pursue a career in this field may be hesitant to enroll for their paralegal studies. They are simply worried about the cost. And sometimes they think that studying part time won't give them the chance to concentrate on their full time job.

However, before you rule out the idea of enrolling for your certificate or degree, ensure that you've contacted your local college and professional paralegal association for possibilities of being granted study loans, scholarships and so forth.

Again, most of the colleges offering paralegal programs have different arrangements for the working students. Most of them offer evening and weekend classes as convenient. And the good thing is that you can enroll for internet-based paralegal studies so you don't have to physically appear in a classroom when it's not convenient for you.

Internship Opportunities

Once you complete your studies in a paralegal program, internships are available to help you advance your experience. You will have a golden chance of working in the field, interacting with professionals who will write your recommendation or work reference. Lastly, you will generally make good contact for future employment prospects.

It is advised that you work closely with your job counselor in college because they can help you identify and find opportunities in various government entities, corporations, law entities and many other organizations. This is the best way to enhance both your education and career goals.

Again, keep in mind that law has different areas of specialization. If you are particularly concerned with a certain area in the legal field, feel free to seek internship opportunities in that field.

Your personality traits

These people are generally responsible, organized, detail oriented, plus they enjoy their job very much. You must love it to study and practice it, otherwise, you won't find it the best career to pursue. And don't do it because of the money, unless you want to be frustrated by what the job involves.

Choosing a college that offers paralegal programs

There's regular paralegal degree and online degree. Many working students now opt to go for the online degrees because they take less time to complete. To enroll in a good school, you must first review the school you want to attend to ensure that it's ABA accredited to offer the program.

ABA is the short form of American Bar Association, the body that licenses laws and legal practitioners in America. When they accredit a college to offer paralegal programs, you are guaranteed that you'll learn material that is most relevant to the current law community in the United States.

There are many paralegal career options you can choose. The road you can take to this career path is varied in nature, but the destination is promising, lucrative, and exciting.

Additional skills you'll need

- You definitely need good communication skills as you'll frequently talk with other lawyers, clients, and professionals.

- You'll need strong written communication skills because working in the legal profession is all about paper work.

- You must know something about the computer and technology industry. You will be required to operate software that documents calenders, appointments and time for meeting clients.

- Your research skills must be up to date in order to stay current with matters affecting the industry and the ever changing laws.

Salary

As at 2015, the average annual wage for legal assistants and those who worked in the paralegal field was $48,350.

Job Outlook

Employment opportunities for people who work as legal assistants and paralegals is projected to grow by 17% come 2022. By standards, this is considered a faster growth rate than what happens in other occupational fields. But on the downside, this also means more competition for those seeking jobs here. However, you should have an upper hand with strong computer and database management skills.

Conclusion

An associate degree in the legal field is always welcomed. However, a bachelor's degree or a master's degree is optional. But you must pass CLA and CP exams offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants. Once these are covered, you're set.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Why Are Paralegals Important To The Legal System?

A: they are indeed quite essential to the legal system in that they assist lawyers to execute their mandate or legal task with more efficiency, precision, and effectiveness. In some cases, paralegals represent lawyers in legally authorized court hearings and tribunals. Their responsibilities range from preparing trials, convictions, hearings, and corporate meetings, to the management of case documents and collected data. Including clerical tasks, they are also involved in research, legal investigations, evidence retrieval, logistics, and other forms of assistance that a lawyer or law firm might find professionally and legally appropriate. Responsibilities of paralegals may vary depending on their specific law firms, employers, specializations, and work environments they are employed in.

Q: Which Paralegals Make The Most Money?

A: As a paralegal, you may secure employment with private law firms or government organizations, meaning that the expected take-home may vary depending on your employer, client, or specialization in the industry. In general, however, paralegals working with the federal government are known to be the best paid with an average of about $63,720, followed by those working in the finance and insurance industries. The earnings may also vary depending on whether you work on an hourly rate or salary paycheck.

Q: Where Can Paralegals Volunteer?

A: Volunteering is one of the best ways to gain practical experience, learn new things, and network your way up the career ladder most professions. When looking for volunteer work as a paralegal, there are various places you can target. The paralegal and bar associations are some of the primary best places to look for pro-bono opportunities. Big law firms and societies also have internship and volunteer vacancies you can use to advance yourself career wise. Getting yourself a volunteer opportunity with organizations such as the NFPA and NALA exposes you to the work environment and equips you with more competencies on top of your formal education. Passing the exam with those organizations (voluntary) demonstrates your competencies and understanding required to work as a paralegal.

Q: Who Employs Paralegals?

A: Paralegals and other legal assistants can secure employment in various types of organizations, mostly in law firms, legal departments of corporate entities, and government agencies. In most cases, they work on a full-time basis, some having to work for as much as 55 hours weekly depending on the workload and the present deadlines. Paralegals with some experience and legal work environment exposure normally find it easier to secure employment than those straight from college.

Q: Are Paralegals Members Of The Bar?

A: In most cases, paralegals are not members of the bar. They are not permitted to sign court or legal binding documents and are not allowed to provide legal advice. Most of them work under the supervision of attorneys, who are bar members. In most states such as Texas, however, they are members of Paralegal divisions, which are in turn members of bar associations. Legal provisions about the profession may differ from state to state, but there is a clear distinction between what a lawyer can do and what the paralegal can't.

Q: Are Paralegals Able To Represent Clients?

A: Yes and No! Whether or not a paralegal is able to represent a client is a matter of debate. Depending on their level of experience, understanding of the law; and exposure to different types of legal matters or proceedings, a paralegal can actually be able to represent a client. In some places such as Canada and some US states, they are permitted to represent clients in small claims court hearings, administrative and financial tribunal cases, or in conviction offense cases whose penalty does not exceed a $5,000 charge or 6-month jail term.

However, it is important to remember that this professional has not yet taken or passed a bar exam and is therefore not permitted by the law to represent a client or provide legal advice in judicial hearings. If such a professional does so, they are liable to penalization by on grounds of unauthorized legal practice. An attorney who lets their paralegal represent a client in an unauthorized trial or court hearing may as well damage their own or their law firm’s reputation a great deal. Only licensed and qualified are allowed to represent clients in most cases and places. However, the paralegal can provide courtroom assistance to their attorneys or law firms in some instances during hearings

Q: Are Paralegals Hourly Or Salary?

A: Both. In comparison to most other professions, paralegals do earn a decent take-home from their expertise and knowledge. Whether you get paid hourly or employed on a salary for your services remains up to your preference and the terms of your employee contract if any. This is mostly the case with private law firms. On average, a paralegal can make up to $44,579 annual salary in the US according to PayScale.com. The hourly rate ranges from $11.90 to $26.73.

Q: Where Are Paralegals In Demand?

A: Due to the fact that court proceedings and legal matters take place almost everywhere in the world where there is stability, peace, and a functional legal system, Paralegals have along the years become quite beneficial in the society, especially in the 212t century. However, these professionals happen to be in higher demand in some places more than others. In the US, the highest demand for paralegals and court assistants happens to be in New York. Being one of the largest and most famous cities in the world, New York is full of enormous corporations, huge Wall Street companies, and popular individuals in need of legal representation. The higher demand for lawyers paves the way for a higher demand for legal assistant attorneys and paralegals. It is estimated that 1 out of 800 New York residents is a paralegal. They have a mean salary of about $54,000, an amount way higher than the national salary average. Other cities or cities in the US where paralegals are in high demand include San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and Washington D.C.

Q: Who Regulates Paralegals?

A: The best possible answer to this question is that the law regulates paralegals. This is because, in the US, there is no specific body or organization that by law tasked with the responsibility of regulating, licensing, and issuing certification for paralegals. However, there are organizations that paralegals can use to become voluntarily certified. Some of these organizations include the National Association of Legal Assistants or NALA and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations or NFPA. The law clearly indicates what paralegals can and cannot do in terms of their legal execution mandate under the guidance of their supervising attorneys.



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