What Does it Take to Become a Paralegal?

Professionals in a library

Note: NMU offers a paralegal studies major through the political science department. Learn more.

If you are looking for a law-related career but are not interested in becoming a lawyer, you might find the perfect fit as a paralegal, who have similar responsibilities as lawyers. The job outlook for this occupation is extremely good, and there are many positions with competitive pay in both the private as well as the governmental sector.

Duties: The duties of a paralegal are closely related to that of a lawyer; he or she can assist lawyers by researching laws and rulings pertaining to a case, organizing and preparing documents for a trial, and locating witnesses. In addition, he or she could draft contracts or mortgages, help file taxes, or create trust funds. However, unlike a lawyer, a paralegal is not able to give advice on legal matters, present a case in court, or establish fees for a case.

Certifications: It is not mandatory for paralegals to become certified; however, it is beneficial when applying for positions to have a certification. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) gives the accreditation of a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA), Certified Paralegal (CP), and also offers the opportunity to earn the Advanced Paralegal Certification if focused in a specific field or specialty. Along with NALA, the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI) provides the American Alliance Certified Paralegal credentials, and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) grants the Registered Paralegal qualification.

Co-workers outsideEducation: In some instances, a firm or agency will accept an applicant with a high school degree or G.E.D. with no further schooling and require him or her to undergo on-the-job training. However, it is generally preferred that the applicant have some continued schooling. You can earn a degree in paralegal studies with an associate’s or a bachelor’s program, and there are even select schools that offer a master’s degree. In addition, you have the opportunity to earn a certificate in paralegal studies if you have a non-paralegal bachelor’s degree.  In this instance if you do have an unrelated degree, perhaps you may consider taking law-related courses in Criminal Justice or other similar departments.

Salary and Work Conditions: With 246, 810 men and women employed, the median salary for paralegals in 2009 was $50,080, earning approximately $24 per hour.  You would most likely work in an office, as well as spending some time in legal libraries, researching information for cases. You would generally work 40 hours a week, but there may be the possibility of extended hours if working towards a deadline and looking for that final puzzle piece that would solve your case.

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