What is a Paralegal and How Do I Become One?

Choosing the right profession can be difficult, especially when you have so many options available. If you are interested in a career as a paralegal, the information below will help you decide whether this path is right for you.

What Is a Paralegal?

A paralegal is a professional who helps attorneys to keep their practice running smoothly. Paralegals may be responsible for a range of tasks, including:

  • Performing legal research
  • Preparing legal briefs
  • Preparing trial notes
  • Organizing files
  • Assisting attorneys during files
  • Interacting with clients and witnesses

To be successful in their jobs, paralegals need to be organized and hard-working. Attention to detail is also an asset in this profession.

How Much Do Paralegals Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for a paralegal was $52,920 in 2020. The lowest ten percent of earners in the field made $32,900 or less. The highest ten percent of earners made a salary of at least $85,160.

This translates to an hourly wage of approximately $25.44. There are more than 345,000 paralegal positions in the United States as of 2020. Job openings in this career are easy to find, with an anticipated growth of 12 percent from 2020 to 2030. This is faster than the growth for the average career in the United States.

Working Environment

Most paralegals work for attorneys. However, some people in this field may also find jobs working in finance, insurance, local government, state government, or federal government. They typically work collaboratively with attorneys, other paralegals, and other legal professionals to accomplish various tasks.

How to Become a Paralegal

Becoming a paralegal typically requires formal education. In most cases, prospective paralegals must earn an associate's degree in paralegal studies from a reputable institution. This will usually be enough to gain an entry-level position in the field. However, some people who want to work in this field will eventually earn a bachelor's degree, either before entering the field or while already working in a paralegal position.

Degree programs focusing on paralegal studies cover a wide range of topics prospective paralegals need to understand in order to do their jobs successfully. Some of the topics that will be covered in these programs include:

  • Legal writing and analysis
  • Legal research
  • Family law
  • Criminal law
  • Probate administration
  • Estate planning
  • Civil litigation
  • Ethics
  • Office procedures
  • Legal applications of computers
  • Corporate law
  • International law

It is possible to find a paralegal position the offers on-the-job training. However, these positions are rare. In addition, you will be much better prepared to work as a paralegal if you have the proper degree and educational background.

Certification

Formal certification is not usually required for paralegals. However, some local and national organizations offer voluntary certifications to paralegals who meet specific criteria. These criteria may include education, experience, and/or a passing score on a paralegal certification exam.

What Characteristics Make a Successful Paralegal?

If you want to be a successful paralegal, there are several specific qualities you will need to possess. Some of these qualities include:

  • Research - Paralegals are responsible for gathering information on regulations, laws, and case facts in order to help attorneys prepare for a case. Paralegals must also use research skills when preparing specific legal documents.
  • Organization - Paralegals will perform better on-the-job when they are organized. As a paralegal, you may be responsible for many cases at once, as well as multiple deadlines.
  • Interpersonal skills - Paralegals must interact with clients and other legal professionals on a regular basis. They must be able to build healthy, productive relationships with these individuals. They must also be able to put clients at ease so they will be able to speak comfortably about their personal matters.
  • Computer skills - Paralegals must be able to use computers effectively for a variety of purposes. Some of these purposes include organizing documents, performing research, and preparing legal briefs.
  • Communication - Paralegals must be able to communicate well with clients, attorneys, and other legal professionals. Good communication skills are essential for this profession.

To learn more about becoming a paralegal, please contact Hussian College today.