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How to Become a Paralegal

A legal office looking to go to court for a client is a significant undertaking, regardless of the industry. Corporate, environmental, criminal, health, and endless other types of litigation require an unbelievable amount of preparation and research before, during, and after trial. 

Paralegals help greatly with this effort. They handle the preparation and filing of necessary documentation, conduct research on facts and legal arguments, investigate cases, and prepare summarized reports for attorneys.

In order to become a paralegal, you should have a strong inclination for research and critical thinking with an investigative mind. Possessing keen attention to detail, alongside time management skills and solid organization is important. Further, having an education, typically in law, and experience in a legal office are large components of obtaining a job as a paralegal.

Sample job description

Paralegals work for law firms where they support attorneys in collecting, organizing, and preparing documents and files for court cases. They also prepare wills, contracts, briefs, appeals, and other documents for clients. Successful paralegals have strong research skills and excellent communication abilities. Paralegals ensure that our organization remains the best in the legal world. If your experience includes fact-checking information and preparing and organizing various legal documents, you might be the ideal candidate for this role. Please apply for this position at [Your Company Name] if you are an experienced paralegal ready to grow with a company.  

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Draft legal documents, motions, and pleadings
  • Assist in trial preparations
  • Organize and manage files
  • File documents with courts
  • Help in the discovery phase

Education and experience

This position requires an associate degree in law or a related field; a bachelor’s degree is preferred but not necessary.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Knowledge of the law and law firm processes
  • Highly organized
  • Smoothly manage multiple tasks and projects concurrently
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • Keen attention to detail

Preferred qualifications

  • Excellent secretarial and organizational skills
  • Ability to juggle multiple activities and work under pressure
  • 7 years of paralegal experience, preferably at a law firm

Typical work environment

Paralegals typically work in an office environment for law firms. They generally work during normal business hours but frequently work nights and sometimes weekends when deadlines demand it.  

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a paralegal are from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday, in an office setting. However, longer or different hours can be necessary, depending on the needs and hours of an individual firm. 

Available certifications

Paralegals work in law offices, and many certifications are available to help them develop new skills and expand their knowledge. Here are some of the top certifications for paralegals: 

  • Certified Paralegal (CP). The National Association of Legal Assistants administers the CP credential, which proves your basic legal knowledge, analytical skills, writing abilities, and reading comprehension as pertains to legal documents. The CP exam is divided into 5 sections that cover the legal system, civil litigation, contracts, commercial law, and more. To qualify for the exam, candidates must have achieved a high school diploma and 7 years of experience. Those with a bachelor’s degree in any field need 1 year of experience. The experience criteria may be waived for individuals who have graduated from a paralegal program. The certification must be renewed every 5 years. 
  • American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP). This certification is offered by the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI) and shows your high level of understanding in all aspects of the paralegal profession. Eligibility requirements include a combination of education and experience. Candidates must also become members of the AAPI before applying for certification. To maintain certification, you must renew your status every 3 years and complete 18 hours of continuing legal education.

Career path

Becoming a paralegal is often an early step toward becoming an attorney, and entails first obtaining an associate degree in law or a related field. Employers typically prefer that candidates have a bachelor’s degree. Beyond that, paralegal certification programs are offered in many places and can help progress this career path. 

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 23-2011

2020 Employment345,600
Projected Employment in 2030387,000
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 12% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift41,400 increase

According to the Center for Advanced Legal Studies, a growing focus is tech savviness in the paralegal world. Unsurprisingly, with the growth of e-discovery, among other aspects, law firms and other legal employers are looking for paralegals with strong technology skills.