The road to becoming a paralegal isn’t the same for everyone. While there are some requirements that all aspiring paralegals have to meet, there are many options they may consider, especially in terms of education.
In this article, we’ll explain how to become a paralegal, taking into account all the options and possibilities. So, if you think this might be the right career choice for you, read on!
Step 1 - Familiarize Yourself With Your State’s Regulations
Currently, California is the only state that directly regulates the paralegal profession. The Californian law regarding paralegals states that, in terms of education, a paralegal must meet one of the following requirements:
- A high school diploma or general equivalency diploma, combined with at least three years of experience working under the supervision of a licensed attorney. The attorney must have been actively practicing law in California for at least the past three years and must provide a written declaration stating that the person is qualified to perform paralegal tasks.
- A bachelor’s or advanced degree in any subject, at least one year of experience working alongside a licensed attorney, and a written declaration from the attorney that attests to the candidate’s ability to perform paralegal tasks.
- Completion of a paralegal program accredited by a national or regional accrediting organization or approved by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education.
- A certificate that proves that the candidate has completed a paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association.
On top of that, even after meeting the qualifications for becoming a paralegal, the individual has to meet continuing education requirements to be able to maintain the certification. Furthermore, according to California state law, a paralegal isn’t allowed to:
- Offer legal advice
- Set fees to be charged to clients
- Represent clients in court
- Work for a person who isn’t an attorney
The Washington State Supreme Court and the Utah State Supreme Court adopted the Limited License Legal Technician and Licensed Paralegal Practitioner rules, respectively. These are rules regarding the educational and practical qualifications of a paralegal, as well as continuing education requirements.
Therefore, before you embark on your journey of becoming a paralegal, it’s imperative that you do your research about the laws of the state in which you plan to work.
Step 2 - Acquire the Required Education
In this section, we’ll cover paralegal education requirements and some of the best ways to gain the necessary skills and knowledge so that you can get started in the paralegal profession. Keep in mind that the requirements vary according to the state you’re in, as well as the law firms, government agencies, or other entities who might be hiring.
Although other states haven’t regulated the paralegal professional requirements in as much detail as California, paralegals typically need an associate degree in paralegal studies or an advanced or bachelor’s degree in any subject combined with certification in paralegal studies. This is different from the requirements for legal assistants, who can get hired with a high school diploma more easily.
If you choose to pursue an advanced or bachelor’s degree in any subject, it’s best to opt for a major that will prepare you for your paralegal career. Some of the skills you’ll need include:
- Excellent command of the language: Since you’ll need to proofread and draft legal documents, your English language skills, including writing and reading comprehension, need to be top-notch.
- Research: Paralegal work requires a lot of legal research, so research skills are absolutely necessary.
- Communication: Paralegals communicate with clients and interview witnesses, so they need to be skilled at both written and verbal communication.
- Organization: Paralegals often conduct administrative work, such as scheduling appointments, and also need to juggle multiple tasks, so they need to be well organized.
To help you acquire these skills, you may choose majors in areas such as English, business administration, or psychology.
While certification isn’t always required, it can give you a competitive edge when applying for jobs. There are various paralegal programs available, and you should choose one based on your experience and area of interest.
Some of the best certifications for paralegals include:
- Certified Paralegal (CP) by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- Professional Paralegal (PP) by the National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS)
- CORE Registered Paralegal (CRP) by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) by the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI)
The education you’ll need to acquire also depends on the area of law you intend to specialize in, be that criminal law, real estate law, family law, or any other field. For example, if you’d like to be a criminal law paralegal, generally speaking, you’ll need an associate degree in criminal justice or paralegal training in said field.
Step 3 - Write an Eye-Catching Resume
Before you start applying for paralegal jobs, you need to make sure your resume is up to par. When writing a paralegal resume, there are a few things to keep in mind. Primarily, you should focus on your strengths and highlight any relevant professional experience you have.
You should also include any education or training you’ve received that’s relevant to the specific paralegal job you’re applying for. In addition, be sure to list any relevant skills, such as legal research or legal writing. Finally, make sure to proofread your resume carefully before sending it off.
Step 4 - Prepare for Interviews
The interview part of the application process can be quite intimidating for anyone, and paralegals are no exception. Even if you have all the qualifications to be a paralegal, this can seem like the most difficult step. The good news is that there are some things you can do to boost your chances of success.
First, research the company thoroughly and be prepared to discuss why you're a good fit for the organization. Many recruiters ask candidates whether they are familiar with the firm, and people often get rejected if they don’t handle this question well.
Second, brush up on your knowledge of the law and be prepared to answer questions about your legal experience. Finally, it would be a good idea to take the time to practice your interview skills with a friend or family member.
Step 5 - Get Continuing Education Credits
Landing your dream job as a paralegal doesn’t mean your education is over. If you hold certification, you need to keep acquiring continuing education credits - CEUs - to maintain it. This is a way of ensuring that paralegals keep up with the latest changes in the law.
There is a number of ways to get continuing education credits. For example, NALA allows paralegals to get CEUs by enrolling in web-based programs that include webinars and self-study options. There are also live-education programs that include a short course and an annual convention educational program.
As you can see, for those who are looking to become a paralegal, there are some requirements to keep in mind.
Apart from acquiring the necessary education, it’s essential that you stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the legal field. In addition, being able to market yourself well and present a professional image are also key factors in becoming a successful paralegal.