How to Become a Paralegal
Essential Education, Skills, and Job Interview Prep
Laws are an important part of any functioning society. There are many careers you can pursue in law, but some require a greater commitment than others. If you want to work in law without spending the time and resources it takes to become a lawyer or judge, you might want to look into how to become a paralegal.
This is a stable field with a rising number of job opportunities and a decent salary. Keep reading if you want to find out which steps you should take to get started in this career.
What Is a Paralegal?
A paralegal is an expert in legal science. They are in charge of assisting with legal procedures, either as a freelancer or while working for a law firm. Paralegals must have a degree and certifications before they can begin working.
Usually, someone who works as an assistant at a private company is called a paralegal, whereas a legal assistant might instead work for a government agency. The two positions are very similar and require the same academic training.
Paralegal Salary and Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the national average salary for a paralegal is about $53,000. However, that figure will vary depending on your previous experience and location. In Connecticut, for example, a paralegal can earn more than $60,000 per year.
When choosing a career, you should consider the job outlook as well as the salary. For paralegal work, the outlook is positive. BLS projections indicate that the demand for paralegals and legal assistants will grow by 10 percent by 2029.
Taking these factors into account, a future as a paralegal might seem like a smart choice. The high demand means you will be faced with many job opportunities once you have the necessary qualifications to get started.
Entry-Level Paralegal Job Requirements
To work as a paralegal, you must meet several requirements. For an entry-level position, you must be highly skilled at communicating in both written and spoken English.
Furthermore, you must have a university degree, experience with the Microsoft Office suite, skills in navigating databases, and a vast knowledge of the laws in the state where you intend to work.
In terms of the salary, Glassdoor reports that an entry-level paralegal stands to earn about $43,000 per year.
How to Ace Your Paralegal Job Interview
One of the most important steps to getting hired is the job interview. These questioning sessions can be stressful, but they’re the only way for a manager to get a better idea of who you are and what you’re capable of.
Once you have a bachelor’s degree, you’ll likely be scheduling a few interviews. You should go into these fully prepared to talk about yourself and your professional accomplishments. Below are some of the questions that often come up in paralegal job interviews.
Common Paralegal Job Interview Questions
- Why do you want to work for our company?
- What is your experience as a paralegal?
- What is your area of expertise?
- What do you want to accomplish as a paralegal?
- Can you handle pressure, long working hours, and strict deadlines?
What Degree Should I Get to Become a Paralegal?
Getting a degree is essential if you want to become a paralegal. Most companies will want to see a degree or certificate that proves you have a strong understanding of the law.
There are several educational paths you can take. Each of the degrees listed below takes a different amount of time to complete, and will correspond to a different salary expectation.
Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies
An associate degree is a popular way to become a paralegal. This two-year degree is offered at community colleges, online colleges, and some universities. In this program, you will learn the fundamentals of law and the basic skills you’ll need for an entry-level paralegal job.
The main benefit of an associate degree is that it takes less time than a bachelor’s degree and you’ll still leave with a respectable credential. Better yet, it is also a lot cheaper than paying tuition for a four-year university degree.
According to Salary.com, a paralegal with an associate degree earns between $54,221 and $58,150 per year.
Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies
Getting a bachelor’s degree will increase the number of paralegal jobs that are open to you.
To get this degree, you will need to study for four to five years and will most likely also be required to complete an internship. Salary.com reports that a paralegal with a bachelor’s degree can earn up to $59,000 per year.
Master’s Degree in Legal Studies
Most people don’t complete a master’s degree to become a paralegal. It isn’t necessary to get a job as a paralegal, and may make you appear overqualified. This degree takes two or three years to complete. However, if you want to work as a professor teaching paralegal studies, you most likely will need to get this degree.
According to Salary.com, a paralegal with a master’s degree can earn upwards of $60,000 per year.
Legal Studies Doctoral Degree
A doctoral degree is the highest academic degree you can get. To pursue this degree, you will need to already have a Master’s in Legal Studies. In a doctoral degree program, the student will conduct their own research project. It takes four to six years to fulfill the requirements of a doctoral degree.
This degree level is not necessary if you want to become a paralegal. A paralegal with a doctoral degree will only earn slightly more, on average, than a paralegal with a master’s degree.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
As a paralegal, you will prepare documents and do research to assist the law firm you work for. To work as a paralegal in the United States, you must have a strong understanding of US law. Below, you will learn about some of a paralegal’s most common tasks.
Preparing and organizing paperwork is a major part of working as a paralegal. You will have to prepare sworn statements and legal documents, conduct legal research, write legal correspondence, and follow up on existing cases.
Talks to Clients
Alongside a lawyer, a paralegal will often have to listen to clients as they explain their legal issues. You must fully understand the issue, then assist the lawyer in offering practical solutions to the problem.
In addition to supporting clients, you will also help your law firm coordinate with the court and witnesses. You will serve subpoenas, and collect judgments and documents that will be needed in court. You can also call witnesses and experts and organize the case schedule with the court.
Essential Paralegal Skills
Legal work is demanding, and you must be determined if you want to succeed in this field. Read on to find out which skills are the most important for a paralegal career.
Being responsible for your clients is fundamental in paralegal work. You must treat each case as if it is the most important in your career. Legal decisions alter the fate of customers. So, before starting down this career path, you should be committed.
Written and Verbal Communication
Communication is the most important paralegal skill. You must learn how to succinctly convey a message via written and verbal communication. This also includes actively listening to what clients and witnesses are saying. Remember that clients do not have a legal background, so you must explain legal terms to them in a simple way.
Databases and IT
Technology is a part of almost every job, including paralegal work. You will likely be in charge of accessing the database at your law firm. Law databases that you should learn how to use include Westlaw, PLC, Casetext, and LexisNexis.
How to Become a Paralegal:
A Step-by-Step Guide
There is always more than one way to launch a successful career. If you want to be a paralegal, look at the steps below and choose the steps that will put you on the path toward success.
Evaluate Your Chances
Before you get started, think about why you want to become a paralegal. Consider the job outlook, salary, and how long it will take you to acquire the necessary education. Make sure that the degree you choose to get will help you reach your goals as a paralegal, without costing too much money. Also consider what state you would like to work in, as salaries and laws differ based on your location.
Get a Degree
Every educational path has different benefits, but you must have a criminal justice or paralegal certificate to get a job in the field. You will have to spend at least the two years it takes to earn an associate degree, and longer if you want to bring in a higher salary once you’re employed. It’s also a good idea to take on an internship at a law firm while you are studying so that you will have some work experience to include on your resume when you’re looking for jobs.
Start Your Job Search
After you graduate, your next step is to find a job. Find law firms in your area that are looking for assistants. You should choose the one that offers the best compensation package and is a good fit for your career goals.
Continue to Improve
The secret of success at a law firm is customer service. You should make sure that you are offering services that other law firms do not offer. Innovation is essential to gaining new clients, and you can build up trust with those clients as you guide them through the legal process.
Learn Tech Skills
If you master key paralegal tech systems, you will be able to work more efficiently. Having technical skills can also open you up to promotions or new job opportunities. Companies value applicants who have skills in platforms like MyCase, client databases like Clio, and other case history and invoicing software.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Paralegal?
It will take two to five years to become a paralegal. If you are getting an associate degree, you will only have to spend two years. A bachelor’s degree will take four or five years to complete. In either case, you may also want to spend a few months to a year in an internship, where you will apply your paralegal knowledge.
Should You Become a Paralegal in 2021?
You should become a paralegal in 2021 because this career is very stable and is in high demand. It also comes with a very reasonable salary. Thanks to technological advancements, you can even study for this career in your own home while attending courses online.
If you’re interested in helping people solve their problems through law, you should start studying to become a paralegal today.
How much does a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice & Law cost?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), it costs an average of $35,331 per year to attend a four-year institution of higher education. If it takes four years to complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice & Law, the average student will pay $141,324 for the full program. Financial aid will help to offset some of this cost.
Where does a paralegal work?
A paralegal may work at a law firm, a government agency, or the legal department of a large corporation.
How much does a paralegal charge per hour?
According to Salary.com, a paralegal in the United States earns about $28 per hour. This varies based on the client, the paralegal’s experience, and the company they work for.
How many paralegal jobs are there in the US?
According to BLS, there were 337,800 paralegal jobs in the United States in 2019. BLS projects that there will be over 35,000 more jobs by 2029.