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How to Become a Paralegal: Career & Salary Information
Whether we have seen it on television shows or worked with one before in real life, the role of a paralegal has become well known, and it has become popular as a career path that people follow and as a vocation known across the globe.
Perhaps its portrayal on television has led to its popularity as a career because, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), paralegals' employment and the job outlook are expected to experience a 12% projected growth in the next decade between 2020 and 2030.
If you are hoping to pursue a paralegal career, you first need to obtain the appropriate academic qualifications and training. You would need to gain experience and specialize in a specific legal field, and you would then need to gain experience and certification.
Let us take a deeper look at this increasingly growing and lucrative career prospect to see if this is the professional path that you should follow.
What Is A Paralegal?
Although unfortunately portrayed on television as "less than a lawyer," or a career path for those who couldn't make it into law school, this idea of what a paralegal is couldn't be more wrong. Paralegals play an essential role in linking civil society with the law.
Their role is intricate, and while they are not qualified as lawyers, they possess extensive legal knowledge. They use this knowledge during consultations with lawyers, attorneys, and clients.
For example, when a family lawyer is compiling the details and estate of a deceased family member, a paralegal will collect information consisting of assets and liabilities that the dead held. They will gather all other relevant information necessary for the lawyer to note any legal concerns, and the paralegal will liaise with the deceased's family.
The paralegal will convey any information that needs to be noted to the deceased's family. They will explain legal terminology and research any other information that may be required for legal proceedings to continue.
What Does A Paralegal Do?
Lawyers are qualified to carry out various duties, including providing clients with legal advice. On the other hand, paralegals conduct many responsibilities similar to that of lawyers. Still, they are neither qualified nor authorized to provide any legal advice to clients or to those that may be seeking legal advice.
Paralegals ensure that law firms remain well-oiled and that all internal and external operations run smoothly. From gathering and analyzing case facts, conducting research, compiling and drafting legal reports, to liaising with clients, these are just some of the extensive duties that paralegals carry out according to the BLS.
Given the duties that paralegals are required to fulfill, it can be seen that they would need extensive legal knowledge and know-how, especially since they are required to compile documentation and legal contracts that are binding.
Paralegals would need to know if specific information would be upheld in court, if it would be beneficial or detrimental to a case, and if the client has a case even before they proceed with compiling and presenting the information to a lawyer.
Paralegals can pursue several streams within the legal field. They can focus on criminal law, family law, or real estate, and they can perform valuable roles in corporate or litigation areas.
Given the number of aspects that a single case may cover, paralegals are required to hold a wide array of knowledge from multiple fields within the law. They must be organized and understand the link and separation of each aspect within a case.
For example, if a criminal case is compiled surrounding a murder and robbery in the victim's home, it will cover not only a homicide but trespassing and theft. A paralegal will look at all legal aspects of the case and compile the documentation about each element.
Being a paralegal requires a lot of reading and research as they delve into past cases and look at multiple ways forward when proceeding with a case. Without paralegals, the job of a lawyer or an attorney would be excessive and exhausting. Paralegals create a streamlined approach to meeting the ends of justice.
Paralegals play an important role in law firms but can also work in corporate and private organizations.
Steps To Become A Paralegal
Contrary to popular belief, or the belief portrayed by television, paralegals are not individuals who couldn't make it into law school or couldn't handle the intense pressure of law school and dropped out. Being a paralegal is a complete and required role within the criminal justice system that requires hard work and dedication.
These are the steps you would need to follow to pursue a career as a paralegal.
Step One: Meet The Minimum Requirements
To pursue a career as a paralegal, you are required to be 18 years or older, you would need to be a U.S. citizen, and you would need to obtain the necessary education requirements to be considered as a candidate for the role of a paralegal.
Step Two: Obtain Qualifications
To be a paralegal, you would need an associate degree in paralegal studies or a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, legal studies, or any other related field. You could also further pursue your studies by obtaining a higher degree in the form of a master's degree in legal studies.
Paralegals do not need to complete the bar examinations.
Step Three: Find Your Field Of Focus
Many paralegals choose to specialize in several streams within the legal field. Some may work in litigation, working with lawyers and attorneys through a trial.
Some may choose to follow the law enforcement and criminal justice field covered under government jurisdiction, and some choose to go into estate planning or labor law. You can find your role in the government or private sectors as a paralegal.
Step Four: Obtain Certification
It is recommended that to pursue a career as a paralegal, you would need to obtain certification from the National Association of Legal Assistants, as this will enhance your employability prospects and it will equip you with the skills and expertise that you need to be successful in your role as a paralegal.
You will also need to research the state-specific requirements you would need to pursue to obtain a role as a paralegal, and you would need to make sure you meet those requirements.
Step Five: Gain Experience
Whether you obtain an internship or volunteer to work at a law firm, getting a feel for the fast-paced legal world will enhance your chances of success in this role in the future.
Step Six: Apply For A Job
Once you have completed all the steps above, you can begin searching for the role you most greatly desire. Whether you are hoping to find a position in a law firm or a corporate company, and with the career growth that is expected to increase significantly for paralegals in years to come, you will be guaranteed to have your pick of positions you are hoping to fulfill.
This career growth expected in the paralegal field is attributed mainly to the need to replace those who have left the workforce due to retirement or other reasons.
What Degree Do You Need To Be A Paralegal?
You would need an associate's or bachelor's degree in legal studies,and you will require a certification from an American Bar Association-approved facility providing approved programs.
What Is The Average Salary For A Paralegal?
According to the BLS, the average annual median salary for paralegals was $56,230, according to data compiled in May 2021. This makes paralegal roles highly sought after by a wide variety of people.
What Makes A Good Paralegal?
To be successful in a role as a paralegal, you would need to have superior communication skills. Not only will you be drafting documentation, but you will also communicate with various involved parties, from lawyers to clients and even courts. This means that a paralegal's written and verbal communication skills need to be impeccable.
When working in the fast-paced legal or corporate industry, you would need to be able to juggle several cases successfully, and you would need to be able to manage your time successfully, ensuring that each case you are working on is given the appropriate attention.
Since you will be working with many people, you would need to collaborate with a team and be a team player successfully. Your role will also comprise more than 80% of research, so you must have expert-level research skills.
Is Being A Paralegal Worth It?
With the hard work that it takes to be a paralegal, the payoff is highly worth it. Earning a good salary, coupled with carrying a lot of responsibility, paralegals often find themselves extremely fulfilled in their role, whether it is financial benefits they seek or credit, reputation, and accountability.
What Type Of Paralegals Make The Most Money?
A paralegal manager would make the most money, followed by legal project managers and intellectual property paralegals.
How Do I Become A Paralegal Without A Law Degree?
While you may not need a law degree, you will need a legal studies qualification to pursue a paralegal's role. These are part of the minimum requirements for this role, and unfortunately, this career cannot be followed without meeting the minimum requirements.
How Much Does A Paralegal Make An Hour?
According to the BLS, paralegals can make a median hourly rate of $27.03 per hour.
What Is The Job Outlook For Paralegals?
The BLS states that paralegals and legal assistants can see a projected job increase of about 12% in this decade, which is higher than average for other roles in other industries. About 43,000 positions are expected to open up each year in this field for the next decade.
Being a paralegal is not a role that should be looked down upon. Instead, with many pursuing these roles, it has proven to be highly sought after and lucrative. It provides stability and requires hard work and great responsibility. If you feel you possess any qualities that would make a great paralegal, it is a career path that promises growth and satisfaction.
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