If you have a career goal of becoming a paralegal, then you are choosing a profession that has a promising outlook. With the appropriate educational training you are sure to begin a successful career path that is sure to be professionally fulfilling. It is important to realize that you cannot begin pursuing a career as a paralegal until you have obtained your high school diploma, or the equivalent. Depending upon your post-secondary school of choice you may also have to submit a copy of your high school transcript, a copy of your ACT scores, and an extensive essay that demonstrates your writing abilities. Paralegals spend much of their time investigating in order to prepare for a case, checking facts to ensure accuracy, drafting pertinent legal documents, and preparing case summaries.
Often, paralegals are also responsible for assisting attorneys in whatever they need and managing the office. Although paralegals are not allowed to actively practice law, they are typically involved in a lawyer's case from the beginning until the close of the case. Paralegals will generally need to help prepare an attorney for any and all of their trials, meetings, and hearings. In short, a paralegal will serve as an attorney's right hand in all business matters. In your capacity as a paralegal you will need to be capable of communicating effectively and professionally and you should also possess the necessary skills to handle any administrative responsibilities that your employer may require. Furthermore, your formal training will help you to learn the ethical issues as they relate to the practice of the law.
In the coursework necessary to obtain your bachelor's degree you will be required to take classes that teach you about negotiation tactics, litigation, interviewing tactics, and constitutional law. Specific courses that may be necessary for potential graduates are: civil litigation, legal ethics, bankruptcy practice, real estate law, and property law. Depending upon the higher learning institution you choose to attend, you may be required to successfully complete an internship prior to graduation. An internship will allow you the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills you have learned to a real world setting.
In addition, successful completion of an internship will look great on your resume when you present it to potential employers. In most cases, it will take approximately four years in order to complete the course work necessary to obtain your bachelo's degree in paralegal studies. Many learning institutions will provide assistance related to helping you find employment following graduation. Generally speaking, this provides students with an extra advantage as they prepare to enter the work force.
Once you begin your work as a paralegal, you may want to pursue certification through a professional organization. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) are two organizations who offer certification exams for individuals who wish to be certified. Of course, as with many certifications, individuals will need to complete continuing education courses in order to maintain this professional certificate.
When it comes to finding a good paralegal school to attend you have a lot of choices. We currently work with schools that offer online Bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies as well as campus based so it really depends on where you live. When researching schools keep in mind that every school will be different in now only how they teach but what they teach. The degree outcome might be the same but things like tuition costs and support are all things to consider before enrolling. Other areas you should be aware of while researching include:
Length of Program – Some online paralegal degree programs allow you to finish courses early since you take the courses at your own pace. Make sure the school you want to attend will allow you to either test out of courses or finish them quicker than normally allotted.
Student Services – Every school should have a student services or student support division that will help you out during your studies. Find out what else the department can help out with including job placement. Some will give you access to their alumni so it will make it easier for you to stay connected in the paralegal industry and hopefully easier to find a job after graduation.
Qualified Faculty – You can learn a lot from your college instructor, especially if he or she was formally a paralegal. Most faculty will have their Bachelor’s in Paralegal or similar degree, often even a masters.
Return on Investment – One thing to really consider these days if your overall return on your investment based on your tuition cost and yearly estimated salary. If it really hard to find a paralegal career unless you have a degree but similar schools could have completely different tuition costs for your degree. If the degree is accredited you shouldn’t have to pay 2-3 times the amount that other schools are charging for the same degree. Shop around and find a program that fits your budget.
When you start your paralegal degree you’ll take close to 15 courses that are all centered around your degree. Some of the concentrations will include:
- Intellectual Property
- Wills and Trusts
- Legal Research
- Dispute Resolutions
- Business Entities
- Wills and Estates
- Criminal Law
- Stages of Litigation
- Civil Litigation
- Torts and Personal Injury
- Family Law
Once you earn your Bachelor’s degree as a paralegal you’ll want to start looking for jobs that fit your career outcomes. The ultimate goal is to get a job as a paralegal however paralegals are used in so many different industries. Below are just some of the industries and job titles you’ll find when you start conducting your job search.
- Legal Claims Adjuster
- Nursing Paralegal
- Government Agencies
- Legal Assistant
- Real Estate Paralegals
- Corporate Legal Departments
The average salary for paralegals is $48,350 per year however those with experience that are in the top 10% make $77,830. Also states like California, Texas, New York and Florida have the most jobs available.