Become a Legal Researcher: Education and Career Roadmap

Mar 04, 2020

Find out the steps to becoming a legal researcher/paralegal. Learn about the education, skills, and experience required to begin your career in legal research.

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Should I Become a Legal Researcher?

A legal researcher is often a paralegal or legal assistant who examines legal history and precedent, often to provide pertinent background information on a case to a lawyer or law firm. This position is not as advanced as a litigation specialist; however, many researchers eventually look to obtain certification as a specialist. Legal researchers might work with courts and other government entities, insurance or real estate agencies, banks, hospitals, private businesses, or the armed forces. Travel might be required to gather information, and many work hours might be spent in law libraries and offices.

These jobs typically require a minimum of an associate's degree in paralegal studies or a similar field; however, a four-year degree may lead to better job prospects. Legal researchers typically work under the supervision of an attorney, and they are not permitted to offer legal services directly to the public. Optional certifications are available that can showcase a researcher's knowledge and skill.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's degree is needed for entry-level positions; some employers prefer a bachelor's degree
Degree Field(s) Paralegal studies
Licensure and/or Certification Voluntary certification is available through the National Association of Legal Assistants
Experience No experience is necessary for those who have completed an accredited program of study for legal assistants; new legal assistants with a bachelor's degree from another field may require six months of in-house training
Key/ Computer Skills Reading comprehension, writing, critical thinking, active learning, judgment and decision making, analytical or scientific software, database user interface and query software, document management software, and information retrieval or search software
Median Salary (2018)* $50,940 (for legal assistants)

Sources: National Federation of Paralegal Associations, *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Association of Legal Assistants, O*Net OnLine.

Step 1: Earn an Associate's Degree

Students can prepare for an entry-level position in legal research by completing a 2-year program in paralegal studies or a related field. In addition to legal research and writing, these programs generally cover business law, business math, communications, government, and investigative techniques. Students also may be able to choose from a variety of electives, such as dispute resolution, estate planning, or family law.

Associate's degree programs in these fields are available on-campus and online. Students who plan to pursue voluntary certification from the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) might want to look for a paralegal or legal assistant program that is recognized by the American Bar Association (ABA).

Step 2: Continue Your Education

While a two-year degree can be sufficient for some positions in legal research, other employers might prefer candidates who've completed a four-year program. A bachelor's degree also might be needed for advanced positions. Some colleges and universities offer degree completion programs in paralegal or legal assistant studies for students who already hold an associate's degree in the field. These programs can be found in online and on-campus formats.

Success Tip:

Get an internship. Most academic programs in paralegal studies require that students complete an internship. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), an internship is an educational program that integrates the theoretical knowledge gained in an academic setting with practical application in a professional environment.

Step 3: Look for Employment

Employment for legal researchers will be available in law firms and government agencies. Graduates can apply directly for open positions or use their connections developed through an internship to gain employment.

Success Tip:

Pursue voluntary certification. NALA offers ABA-recognized certification for paralegals and legal assistants. To earn the Certified Paralegal (CP) credential, applicants must meet educational and experience requirements and pass a 5-part exam, which includes a section on legal research. NALA also offers Advanced Paralegal Certification (APC) in a number of areas. These higher designations are awarded to CPs who have passed an APC course in their desired specialty. These certifications will make prospective paralegals much more marketable to employers.

In summary, aspiring legal researchers must have bachelor's degrees or at least associate's degrees in paralegal studies or a related field and should consider pursuing additional educational opportunities like an internship or certification before seeking employment.

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