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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.


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


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 hob 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.

The pay

As at 2012, the average annual wage for legal assistants and those who worked in the paralegal field was $46,990.

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.


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.

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