How to Become a Paralegal
Paralegals, also known as legal assistants work for lawyers and attorneys in the legal field. Although the whole legal process is always handled and decided by the lawyer, paralegals usually perform important tasks especially during hearings or trials, and corporate meetings. Paralegals can also choose a specific specialization for better career opportunities such as real estate paralegals, immigration paralegals, bankruptcy paralegals and nurse paralegals. If you want to learn the requirements and career paths on how to become a paralegal, here is relevant information on paralegal courses and degree programs.
Paralegal or Legal Assistant Education Requirements
The first requirement in order to become a certified paralegal is a high school diploma. Higher education is of course needed in order to become a professional legal assistant so after finishing high school, you should then choose the specific pathway you want to take on how to be a paralegal. When deciding the specific career path to take, some of the common questions people face is how to become a certified paralegal and how many years does it take to become a paralegal?
The length of study to become a certified paralegal will depend on the specific degree program you choose. There is an education for paralegal, which takes 2 years of study and training. While, there is also a degree program, which will take 4 to 5 years for completion. To decide properly, here are the different degree programs for aspiring legal assistants or paralegals.
- Associate Degree Programs
This is considered to be the lowest and shortest degree program to become a paralegal. This type of paralegal degree program takes only 2 years to be completed and can be achieved from various technical and community colleges. Taking an associate degree in paralegal is not a bad choice since you can proceed to a higher degree program once you decide to proceed to an undergraduate degree or even higher education. This degree program is suitable for those students who have insufficient funds to support their education and need to earn a good degree that can ensure work opportunities.
Once they find a salaried job as a paralegal, they can still opt to obtain higher education since they are already earning enough income to support their education. If you want to start with this degree, you should first find a community college or technical school accredited by the regulating agency in your country.
- Undergraduate Degree Programs
People who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in college can just enroll in certification programs to become a paralegal. Most students today in order to widen their knowledge, skills and obtain more job opportunities usually pursue additional degree and certification. If you want to focus on paralegal studies, you can also take accelerated online degrees program on paralegal studies. Students who obtain an associate degree in paralegal can also proceed to a bachelor’s degree and will be required to finish the additional education and trainings that are not included on their associate degree. You can choose easy bachelors degrees as well to speed the process up.
- Paralegal Training and Certification Requirements
After finishing a specific degree program, students should also undergo training to be a paralegal. Professional organizations and institutions usually provide these training programs. Training for paralegal usually takes months to a year depending on the type of certification you want to achieve. Once you finish the training and pass the exam, you will then receive your paralegal studies certificate and start your career is a certified legal assistant. You can apply from various public institutions and departments, law firms and private companies and lawyers.
One of the main paralegal certifications you need to obtain is the CLA or the Certified Legal Assistance certificate administered by the National Association of Legal Assistants or NALA. You should also pass the PACE or the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam established and provided by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations or NFPA.
- Higher Education Options for Paralegals
Some people proceed to higher paralegal education like a master’s degree program for paralegals. Although earning a bachelor’s degree program (try fast online degrees) can already ensure you a paralegal career, obtaining a master’s degree can be a great decision to enhance your knowledge and to obtain better career opportunities. Higher education and trainings are also important if you are in a state or country with tough job competition.
Personal Traits and Skills Required to be a Good Paralegal or Legal Assistant
Aside from acquiring the knowledge on how to become a paralegal, you should also learn the personal traits and characteristics needed in order to become a good legal assistant. Some people just tend to decide what career path to take based on what is most profitable and easy to obtain. When deciding the profession to pursue, make sure also to consider your personal traits and determine if the career you are planning to obtain will be suitable to your personal skills and characteristics.
- To be a professional paralegal, one must have excellent organization skills. Paralegal jobs can be a very busy and hectic work so an excellent organization skill and time management is definitely important.
- Aspiring paralegals should also have great verbal and writing communication skills. Legal assistants usually write many legal papers so it is essential that their language skills are precise and correct.
- People who want to be a professional paralegal should also be flexible, has excellent research skills, and self-confidence and motivation since legal assistants sometimes need to work on their own without supervision.
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