Paralegal Career Overview
Paralegals typically work in law firms and assist attorneys by performing a wide range of tasks, such as gathering and organizing facts for different cases, researching pertinent laws and regulations, drafting legal documents, filing documents with the courts, and corresponding with clients. Some paralegals specialize in different areas of law, like business, contract, personal injury, criminal, bankruptcy, or real estate. For individuals who want to become paralegals, there are a number of online resources available to help make the process more efficient, including online degree programs.
|Required Attributes||Meticulous, articulate, computer savvy, organized, effective at research, personable|
|Job Growth*||12% for 2018-2028 (paralegals and legal assistants)|
|Median Salary (May 2018)*||$50,940 per year (paralegals and legal assistants)|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Steps to Become a Paralegal Online
Although paralegals generally work in offices, many of the educational steps to become one can be accomplished online. Read below to see how to incorporate online resources into the process.
Step 1. Obtain a Degree or Certificate Online in Paralegal Studies
Although some law firms hire college graduates without a legal background and train them, many employers require at least an associate's degree in paralegal studies, with some preferring candidates with a bachelor's degree. Another option for individuals who have a bachelor's degree in a different field is to earn a certificate in paralegal studies. There are a number of schools that offer online programs in paralegal studies, with certificate programs lasting anywhere from eight to 18 months and associate's degree programs taking about two years to complete.
Some degree programs are recognized by the American Bar Association, and those may have fewer online options. Some of these programs include a mix of online courses and on-campus or synchronous online instruction, meaning that students use video conferencing to join an on-site class with other students at set times. Courses in a paralegal program generally include law office management, legal research and writing, family law, and criminal law.
Step 2. Become State or Nationally Certified
Certification is not a requirement to become a paralegal, but it can help paralegals advance in their careers, possibly earn more, and be recognized as having expertise in their fields. There are multiple national organizations that offer voluntary certification programs, and some states might even provide their own. Many certification programs require candidates to have graduated from an accredited institution or one approved by the American Bar Association.
Although each organization has its own exam structure, some tests might be two parts, including a knowledge exam with multiple-choice items and a written skills exam. Online study guides, sample test questions, and other resources can often be found on the websites of each organization to help candidates prepare for the exams, although the actual tests must be taken at a testing location. In addition, the American Bar Association provides a list of national certification programs, as well as state certification programs, on its website.
Step 3. Research Potential Employers
Finding the right job as a paralegal can take some time and research, but using online tools can help. The American Bar Association has a careers page on its website that allows users to search by various fields, including job title and location. In addition, there are countless other online job boards that post paralegal positions. It's also worth looking at the websites of specific law firms to see career opportunities as well as the requirements. Although many companies may require several years' experience, it is possible to find entry-level positions with the right persistence, and some firms might make exceptions.