How to become a paralegal like Rachel Zane on Suits
Do you have an interest in a legal career? Becoming a lawyer or an attorney isn’t the only way to a fulfilling job in the field. If you’ve never considered exploring a career as a paralegal, it’s time to do so.
Paralegals play a critical role in any legal team. They engage in research and help draft legal documents or reports under the supervision of an attorney, and may assist with daily operations of a law firm. Paralegals are not licensed and hence, cannot dole out legal advice.
They are also responsible for investigating the facts of a case, collecting data from various sources, researching past cases, filing reports and legal documents, drafting pleadings and motions, assisting during trials, preparing civil documents, interviewing witnesses and clients, and maintaining relationships with involved parties.
What they do on a day-to-day basis may very depending on the law firm they work in, but their jobs are critical to any law firm.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics proves this, projecting employment of paralegals and legal assistants will grow 10% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.
How does one become a paralegal?
You don’t necessarily need a degree to become a paralegal, depending on where you work, but you would typically need a high school diploma or a GED as a basic requirement.
Some law firms might prefer candidates with an associate’s degree while others may require a bachelor’s. Paralegal certifications may also be a sufficient qualification for some firms to jumpstart your legal career.
What certifications will help you become a paralegal?
If you have a degree, a certification is optional. However, national surveys consistently show that certifications such as Certified Paralegals (CP) and Certified Legal Assistants (CLA) are used to determine and measure applicants’ abilities and skills.
Employers appreciate candidates who go the extra mile. They are also easier to trust when it comes to handling difficult clients. Certified paralegals tend to be viewed as more valuable assets to their firms or legal departments thanks to their additional training.
Certified candidates may also earn significantly more than their non-certified counterparts. According to the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the CP credential comes with an average salary increase of 4,880 US dollars. Many organisations offer similar certifications for paralegals, including the National Federation of Paralegal Associations and the Association for Legal Professionals.
Several universities have also jumped on the bandwagon to provide accessible, online options for professionals interested in a legal career.
The University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Certificate in Paralegal Studies enables students to progress at their own pace, taking one or two courses per semester.
The University of Georgia offers an online, 90-credit Paralegal Certificate programme that begins every two weeks. Other institutions that offer similar programmes include: The University of California-Berkeley, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, the University of Miami, and the University of Washington.