Paralegals are the supportive people, performing essential tasks with the attorneys to better serve the clients. The chief reason for becoming a paralegal in the U.S. is the increasing demand of professionals in the field. This how to become a paralegal guide will serve you the best in 2020 since it has all the reasons to provide you better career opportunities. In the year 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipated a report. As per the report, “the paralegals will experience 12% growth by 2028, which is much faster than the national average.” The report advances the chances of people in becoming a paralegal. Since the attorney’s search of the best of the paralegal staff for their private law firm, here is a guide to get you started.
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Who Are Paralegals?
Paralegals are individuals who assist lawyers in day to day administrative work. A paralegal’s job is known to be well paid and respected. They can perform various duties if the law firm or the lawyers they are assisting request them to.
When we say paralegals assist lawyers in administrative work, it means they prepare lawyers in closing cases, prepare them for court hearings, fix appointments with major corporations who need the assistance of a lawyer, do research work to find out about new laws and regulations, composing and drafting of legal documents such as contracts, wills, deeds, trust documents, lease, and mortgage documents, etc. Furthermore, they are required to coordinate with other legal firms who are working on a similar case as their firm. They also have to maintain financial records.
Roles and Responsibilities of a Paralegal
In the last few years, the tasks and responsibilities of paralegals have increased due to their excellent performance and consistency. One more reason for this is; professionals of the legal forum have realized the benefits of having paralegals assist them. Paralegals can work in any law firm that deals with real estate, civil and criminal law, litigations, and immigrations. Paralegals are better described as pillars to a law firm.
Do not confuse a paralegal to a legal assistant; even though paralegals are more qualified than legal assistants, they can still perform certain jobs of legal assistants. Paralegals are known as legal assistants in some states in the U.S. However; a legal assistant will never be known as a paralegal because they are not trained or qualified to perform tasks as paralegals.
Whatever said and done, it is a known fact that paralegals and legal assistants are two different professionals even though their job title can mislead others in thinking the opposite. Paralegals have a background in law and political science, which helps them in their research and casework for lawyers. Many private law firms are opting to hire paralegals instead of legal assistants because of this. Legal assistants, more than often, assist paralegals and lawyers in managing the administration work for these two professionals. Legal assistants perform tasks more on the secretarial and clerical side. Surprisingly, even though the job roles of these two professionals differ, but their salaries don’t. Paralegals and legal assistants almost draw the same salary.
Average Annual Salary of a Paralegal
Its human tendency to first look at the monetary benefits they would be getting when they are moving into a new job. Paralegals have the scope of earning a lot if they perform their duties effectively and efficiently. However, other factors can hinder the salary of a paralegal, too, such as:
Place of work
Under which law firm you work does make some difference in the salary you draw. For example, if you work for a law firm that practices criminal defense, then you are sure to earn a much better salary working for them because when they hire you, they will expect you to have in-depth knowledge of criminal laws.
Years of experience
Having a few years of experience in the same field (i.e., a paralegal) or working for the same law firm for many years will determine how much salary you earn. The reason being, when you are more experienced, the lesser monitoring and help you will need from your seniors. Also, by now, you would have gained enough knowledge on the subject of legal laws and regulations that you can work on your own. This way, you are very beneficial to the company.
In which city or state you work will make a huge difference compared to the work experience you hold or under which law firm you work. For example, if you work in a small city or town where there are hardly any law firms, then such places will not have any demand for paralegals, nor will they pay much to whoever is hired. Another factor that can get you a higher salary is to get into places where there is a high standard of living, and the population is more. Just remember, the more the population, the more laws are broken; hence the demand for law firms and paralegals will be there.
Paralegals who have just started work will earn an average of $35,000 per year, which is fair enough for a person with no experience in the field of a paralegal. Once you prove yourself as hardworking and independent, you might earn up to $55,000 in three or four years. Also, these figures are just averages; hence the actual salaries could be bigger.
5 Steps to Become a Paralegal
To help you have a brighter career prospect for becoming a paralegal, here are 5 steps to follow.
Step 1# Obtain the Educational Qualifications
To become a paralegal, there is no formal education or certification needed. However, it’s a personal choice by many paralegals to undertake some paralegal education.
Just remember, with or without any formal education, a paralegal professional is unauthorised to practice as a lawyer or practice law on behalf of a law firm; this is against the federal law.
Even though there is no law (except in California) that states a paralegal need qualification or certification before she/he practices as a paralegal, it would be better if you proactively get yourself certified in a paralegal program. Here the degrees that you must have to practice as a professional paralegal professional.
An associate’s degree in paralegal studies
- An associate’s degree may take about two years to complete
- The minimum admissions requirement is a high school diploma
A bachelor’s degree in legal studies or a related field
- A bachelor’s degree may typically take four years to complete
According to the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA):-
While selecting a paralegal professionals, the employers are placing increasing emphasis on the importance of a bachelor’s degree the least.
A master’s degree in legal studies
If you possess a bachelor’s degree, you may want to consider a master’s degree
A master’s degree in legal studies (MLS) covers courses such as negotiation, intellectual property law, employment law, legal writing, and trial advocacy. According to O*Net OnLine, a paralegal’s tasks will include preparing many legal documents and preparing for trial, which the MLS program covers well.
For career changers, there are online master’s of legal studies programs available to pursue a degree while working. These might help you get a better hold of the profession.
Step 2# Acquire Paralegal Certifications
To practice as a professional paralegal, there are certain paralegal certification courses that you must acquire. The main certifications that the attorneys seek while interviewing the paralegals include:-
- National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- NALS – The Association for Legal Professionals
- American Alliance of Paralegals (AAPI)
Though these certifications are no compulsion, yet they are a good add on to prove your practical knowledge to the attorneys. So, choose a certification that best serves your purpose.
Step 3# Earn an Optional State -Level Paralegal Certifications
If you’re planning to become a paralegal in the states like Texas, Canada, and Florida, you can apply for the state-level paralegal certifications. These certifications increases your chances of settling for a good job with a desirable salary package.
Becoming a Paralegal in Texas
The Texas Board of Legal Specialisation has a paralegal division, which provides State Bar of Texas and certification that helps you seek a job in Texas.
Paralegal Job in Florida
Although acquiring a job as a paralegal in Florida doesn’t demands a lot of education and practise, it is to your advantage if you’re certified. Know more about the Certified Paralegal exam and find a reliable job as a paralegal expert.
Becoming a Paralegal in California
Since there is a cut-throat competition in becoming a paralegal in California, there is a strict path to follow. According to the California Alliance of Paralegal Associations:-
Candidates must have a paralegal certificate from a school approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) and complete some semester hours in paralegal studies from a school accredited by the state of California.
Job as a Paralegal in New York
According to the New York Career Institute:
The Empire State Alliance of Paralegal Associations suggests that people who want to become a paralegal in New York should have a minimum of an associates degree in paralegal studies or similar field focus, a paralegal certificate, or a bachelor’s with a focus on paralegal studies.
This informations serves well if you’re seeking for a job as a paralegal in New York.
Step 4#Select a Specific Field of Expertise
If you’re thinking of becoming a paralegal, you must then choose a specific field of expertise. You can’t find a job in two specialised fields at a time. So, to make your choice better, here are the few fields to loon into.
- Litigation – Working with trial attorneys
- Government– Working with regulatory agencies, law enforcement or politicians
- Estate Planning and Probate– Communicating with families, tax auditors, and trustees
- Labor Law– Working on issues between employers and employees, such as salary disputes
Step 5# Take an Internship
To finally settle for a good job in the above-mentioned states, the candidates must take up an internship. Many accredited programs work for the best of the student’s welfare by providing them an internship experience. You can take up an internship in fields such as banks, insurance companies, private law firms, government agencies and offices, etc.
Following up with all these steps, you can seek a job as a paralegal and earn a good sum for the rest of your life.