A paralegal is a lawyer's assistant who helps a lawyer prepare for a meeting or a trial. This preparation may include researching facts or laws and writing reports used during the case. An associate's or bachelor's degree is required, depending on the employer. Some employers may also require on-the-job training or professional certification.
|Required Education||Associate's degree; bachelor's degree sometimes necessary|
|Other Requirements||Some employers may require certification; on-the-job training may be required|
|Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)*||17% for paralegals and legal assistants|
|Average Salary (2015)*||$52,390 annually for paralegals and legal assistants|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Education Requirements for the Paralegal
There are no universal requirements for a paralegal, but there are several possible educational paths a potential paralegal might take. Educational options include certificate programs and degree programs. The American Bar Association (ABA) approves educational programs for paralegals. However, only a little over a quarter of the available associate and bachelor's degree programs are ABA-approved. Any programs that offer a degree entirely online are not ABA-approved, because the ABA requires that at least ten semester hours of courses related to the law be taken in a traditional classroom.
The path requiring the least amount of time is a certificate, which can take as little as seven months to complete. Most certificate programs are for people who have an associate's or bachelor's degree in another area. A few require applicants to have a specified number of college credit hours plus experience in the area of law. Certificate programs only include courses pertinent to paralegal work and do not include general education courses.
- Law and ethics
- Legal research
- Legal writing
- Business law
- Family law
- Intellectual property
- Personal injury
Students in associate's and bachelor's degree programs take a basic core of general education courses in English, math, science, and social studies as well as the required courses for paralegal work. There are some master's degree programs available, but this level of education is not required by most employers.
In 2014, there was no mandatory certification for paralegals, although some employers may require it. The National Association of Legal Assistants has offered voluntary general certification since the early 1980s. In 2010, the association added an advanced paralegal certification in personal injury. The American Alliance of Paralegals also offers voluntary certification.
Paralegals may find employment with law firms, banks, insurance and real estate companies, corporations, and court offices. Contract freelance work is also an option. Paralegals are often given responsibilities previously held by lawyers. However, they are not allowed to present a case in court, offer legal advice, or set legal fees.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expected a 17% growth in paralegal and legal assistant jobs from 2012-2022, which is faster than the national average of 11% for all occupations. The BLS expected the most growth for paralegals in areas such as finance, insurance, healthcare and consulting. More demand from corporate employers was also expected.
In 2015, average annual salaries were almost $52,390, or more than $25 per hour, according to the BLS. States with the highest percentage of paralegals in the state's employment numbers were the District of Columbia, Connecticut, Delaware, and West Virginia.