The Essential Guide to Becoming a Paralegal

close up, business man or lawyer accountant working on accounts

So you’ve done your research* and think a career as a paralegal is right for you? If you’re interested in working within the United States legal system without having to undergo years of schooling, yet you still wish to obtain a valuable education, then a career as a paralegal may be the solution for your career hunt.

As a paralegal, you’ll play a vital role within the legal system. With a wide array of specializations and job responsibilities, it’s an exciting way to find your passion and begin a career within this field of study. While the educational requirements of a paralegal are far less than many other legal professions, navigating through the educational system can be a daunting task. The following guide provides a streamlined and simple solution to help clarify the best way to becoming a paralegal for you.

There are several options an aspiring paralegal has when it comes to entering the work force. However, in order to truly make the best educational decision, it’s important to answer the following questions:

How is the paralegal job market in your immediate area? Are you willing to relocate to a new city for better employment options?

What are your state requirements regarding paralegal education and licensing?

Do you have any higher education under your belt?

Ultimately, what are your long-term goals as a paralegal?

When it comes to determining the best educational pathway, it’s essential to understand what rules and regulations your state has for this career field. Some states feature very specific educational requirements as well as a passing score on a licensing examination. Before ever considering a training institution, do your due diligence and uncover the educational/certification/licensing requirements for your state.

Even if your state doesn’t require specific levels of education, one of the largest advantages of undertaking a paralegal degree program is the opportunity for post-graduation internships. If you’re new to this industry, obtaining a job can be a daunting task. Streamline this process by taking advantage of an internship opportunity, which may even be undertaken while you’re still in training for school credits. Working as an intern provides you with valuable on-the-job training along with the opportunity to network with employers.

Although there are many ways to obtain a job as a paralegal, the most successful job applicants are those who undertake specific training opportunities for specialized skills. For example, a paralegal is often charged with communicating with clients and other legal professionals. Therefore, taking coursework in oral communication and written communication looks amazing on your resume and also provides above-average skills upon entering the workforce. If you’re looking to expand your chances of employment, take courses in computers, research and interpersonal skills. You’ll find these courses dramatically enhance your confidence and employment opportunities.

Recommended Research Resources:
ParalegalCertificationScoop.com
NALA.org

The Basics of a Paralegal What They Do

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As a paralegal, you play an integral role in the realm of law. While these professionals are valuable assets to many legal operations, the role and responsibilities of this profession is often misunderstood. Although daily tasks and responsibilities vary according to industry and section of law, the foundation scope of practice is universal, as explained here.

Primary Paralegal Duties

In basic terms, paralegals assist lawyers and other legal professionals. Specific duties obviously vary; however, the following details the most common of responsibilities:

Investigation

As a paralegal, you may spend a good portion of your workday investigating the specifics of a case. In fact, fact-checking and gathering occurs throughout many paralegal specializations. The most successful paralegals are highly-skilled researchers and carry a natural desire to investigate beyond the surface.

Clerical Work

Beyond the more exciting research duties, paralegals are often charged with clerical and/or administrative duties. Common employer expectations include organizing and maintaining documentation. It’s not uncommon for paralegals to schedule and track client meetings and important dates on behalf of their employer.

Legal Writing

Within the realm of paralegal careers, legal writing is one of the most common job requirements. The scope of such writing may slightly vary upon industry and practice concentration. Generally speaking, a paralegal will draft and review a variety of contracts. For example, those employed within the real estate industry are often charged with the task of compiling mortgages and related documents. Other writing responsibilities include drafting legal letters to clients and writing reports/summaries to assist a lawyer within an ongoing or upcoming trial.

Gather Evidence

Perhaps one of the more exciting job responsibilities for a paralegal is gathering evidence for legal proceedings. This is generally undertaken during the preparation phase of a case/trial. Along with physically gathering evidence, a paralegal may also be charged with task of arranging and cataloging evidence. The exact requirements for executing this responsibility  may vary; however, a high attention of detail and a solid understanding of the legalities of handling evidence is paramount. As a paralegal, you may be responsible for obtaining affidavits as well as other formal statements from clients that are to be used as evidence within court.

Trial Assistance

For paralegals who work with trial lawyers, assisting a lawyer during a trial is by far the most common responsibility. The exact expectations of a paralegal within this job duty typically includes filing exhibits with the court. Exceptional note taking is required for this position as is a keen eye for reviewing trial transcripts. Other levels of assistance involve actually communicating with persons involved in the trial. This may include contacting other lawyers, witnesses and other clients to schedule meetings, interviews and other legal procedures.