How to Become a Paralegal in 3 Simple Steps

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What is a Paralegal?

If you’re interested in practicing law and what to specialize in one area you will be interested in becoming a paralegal. This is often why people look into how to become a paralegal, so they can specialize in one particular area of interest to them.

Being a paralegal can be a very interesting and rewarding career. The role involves building up a good deal of knowledge about the law, working with clients and other legal professionals, and often working under pressure and to tight deadlines.

Depending on the field of law chosen, the rewarding part is being able to have a positive impact on people’s lives.

What Does a Paralegal Do?

Paralegals fill an important role in the legal profession. They are often utilized by lawyers to help handle their workload and carry out a lot of their administrative tasks. They are also qualified to practice law and specialize in a certain area or law opposed to being a general lawyer.

Most paralegals work for private firms, corporate legal offices, or for government agencies. A typical day involves carrying out administration tasks for attorneys, such as preparing legal documents, carrying out research, meeting with clients, and liaising with courts and other legal professionals.

The average salary for paralegals is $48, 350 and there is a 17% projected growth until 2022.

The duties of the role can vary a lot depending on where the paralegal works and what kind of support they have. But the following should give you a good general idea of what to expect.

Key Duties of a Paralegal Include:

  • Carrying out research
  • Meeting with clients to discuss their requirements
  • Communicating legal information to clients
  • Attending court cases
  • Maintaining legal records
  • Desirable Skills of a Paralegal

    If you are looking into becoming a paralegal there are some skills outside of education and qualifications that can help you in this profession. Some of which are as follows:

    Professionalism

    Working in law comes with the expectation, and the need to be professional. If clients think you are anything less than professional they will not want to trust you with their legal matters. There are codes of ethics and professionalism that come with qualifying to be a paralegal.

    Good Writing Skills

    As a paralegal you will be making notes and writing up legal documents on a regular basis. If you are held back by your writing skills you will find it difficult to progress in your career. This includes both manual writing and typing on the computer.

    Good Communication Skills

    Paralegals work closely with clients, interview other people related to their case, talk in court, and work with other members of their teams. They are often only as good as their communications skills.

    Research and Attention to Detail

    Carrying out research and having a keen eye for detail are two of the most important aspects of a paralegal’s role. Most research will be carried out online, with some records being tracked down in person and read for the information.

    Prioritizing and Managing Workload

    Things can get a little hectic in the paralegal world. The more cases you are managing, the better business is going, but the more workload you’re trying to manage. You need to be good at managing a busy workload and prioritizing your work, or learn to be so pretty quickly.
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     Becoming a paralegal

    On the job training

    There are several examples of paralegals starting their careers without any formal education. This is more common at small firms in small towns, especially if there are no study opportunities nearby. Big law firms usually will require some type of degree or certification when hiring a paralegal.

    Prior education

    There are several different types of degrees someone can acquire with different requirements, so the prior education varies . Let’s examine what the most common types of undergraduate degrees are and their requirements.

    Step 1: Get a Paralegal Undergraduate Degree

    Paralegal certificate (online – offline) 7 months – 12 months

    These certificate programs are a good solution for those who want to enter the job market really quick and are looking for an affordable solution. It is not really hard to enter a program like this.

    The most common requirements are: high school diploma or something equivalent like a GED and maybe a Wonderlic Personnel Test with a score over 20. Having good high school grades in courses like political science, history and psychology will put you ahead of the competition.

    These are usually 24 semester hour programs. With 18 required semester hours of core paralegal courses like:

    • Introduction to Law and Ethics
    • Legal Research and Writing
    • Interviewing and Investigation
    • Corporate and Business Law
    • Civil Procedure
    • Computers and the Law

    And 6 elective semester hours with courses like:

    • Family Law
    • Personal Injury
    • Real Estate
    • Intellectual Property
    • Advanced Civil Procedure

    The cost of a paralegal certificate program is relatively low and ranges from $8, 000 to $10, 000.
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    Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies Degree (online- offline) 2 years

    Paralegal Associate’s Degree is the most common degree aspiring paralegals choose to complete. It is a relatively easy degree to purse and the requirements are almost the same as the certificate programs mentioned above. Most universities and colleges offer the option for either on campus or online completion of the program.

    These are 60-95 semester credit hour programs that can be completed within 15 to 24 months.

    The structure of these programs vary, but a typical curriculum will look like:

    12-15 semester credit hours on required core paralegal courses (3-5 semester credit hours per course)

    • Torts & Personal Injury
    • Legal Research
    • Writing & Civil Litigation
    • Contracts
    • Professional Responsibility & Legal Ethics
    • College Composition I
    • College Composition II
    • Introduction to Computers
    • Introduction to Paralegal Studies

    At least 24 – 35 semester credit hours from the following specialty courses (3 -5 semester credit hours per course)

    • Real Property
    • Criminal Law
    • Business Law & Bankruptcy
    • Domestic Relations
    • Wills, Trusts and Estates
    • Alternative Dispute Resolution
    • Constitutional Law and Criminal Procedure
    • Federal Income Taxation
    • Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights
    • Environmental Law
    • Employment Law
    • Immigration Law

    For the remaining credit hours in order to fulfill the 60- 95 semester credit hours students will have to choose at least 15 – 40 semester credit hours from the following general education courses (3-5 semester credit hours per course)

    Business and Economics

    • Principles of Management
    • Human Resources Management
    • Principles of Accounting
    • International Business
    • Management Information Systems
    • Macroeconomics
    • Principles of Marketing
    • Business Ethics
    • Microeconomics
    • Principles of Finance

    English

    • Business Writing
    • English Composition I
    • English Composition II
    • Contemporary American Literature

    Mathematics

    • Introduction to Probability and Statistics
    • College Algebra
    • Ideas in Math
    • College Geometry

    Natural Science

    • Introduction to Life Processes
    • The Science of Nutrition
    • Environmental Science
    • Essentials of Earth Science

    Humanities and Social Sciences

    • American Government
    • American History I
    • American History II
    • Introduction to Sociology
    • Comparative Politics
    • Media & Cultural Literacy

    Internship

    Some universities and colleges offer an internship as a part of their degree program. This allows students to gain valuable working experience and semester credit hours (usually 5 credits) at the same time. We highly recommend finding an Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies Degree that offers an internship. The benefits of doing an internship are numerous, you gain experience that is demanded for this profession, you network with people at your industry, and you will learn from your mistakes that are forgivable as you are an intern, and finally you might get a proposal for a permanent job if you are good and they like you.

    The cost of an Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies program either on campus or online ranges from $30, 000 to $45, 000.
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    Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies Degree 4 Years

    Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies Degree is a 4 year degree that consists of between 120-190 semester hours. This degree will help you develop a strong foundation in law and develop your paralegal skills to excellence.

    A big benefit of getting a Bachelor in paralegal studies is if later in his career a graduate wants to attend law school and become an attorney, a Bachelor in paralegal studies is considered a big advantage.

    The requirements are a bit different from the previous degrees and programs. If you are a high school graduate you will need a high school diploma with at least a 2.0 grade average. A big advantage will be good grades in certain courses like political science, history and psychology, and you also might need to successfully complete some inside college tests. If you have a paralegal certificate or Associate’s degree in most cases you will be instantly accepted.

    The structure of these programs vary but a typical curriculum will look like:

    General / Introductory/ Preparation Courses (30-45 semester credit hours)

    • Legal Theory & Ethics
    • Torts
    • English for Professionals
    • Legal Research, Writing-Briefing and Analysis
    • Contracts
    • Legal Research, Writing-Legal Memo
    • Property
    • Leg Research, Writing and Persuasive Writing.
    • Computers & the Law
    • Achieving Career and Education Success 3 cr.
    • Presentation Techniques
    • Microeconomics
    • Macroeconomics
    • Professional Writing
    • Introduction to Environmental Studies.
    • Intermediate Algebra
    • Diversity in Society
    • Introduction to Statistics
    • Accounting Foundations I
    • Computer Applications: Spreadsheet
    • Computer Applications: Word Processing
    • Applied Information Technology
    • Management Foundations
    • Principles and Applications of Adult Learning
    • Professional Ethics
    • Composition I
    • Composition II
    • Oral Communications
    • Basic Critical Thinking
    • General Psychology
    • Environmental Science

    Major Core courses (45-50 semester credit hours)

    • Law Office Administration
    • Remedies & Dispute Resolution
    • Litigation I
    • Corporations I
    • Criminal Law I
    • Litigation II
    • Corporations II
    • Criminal Law II
    • Objective Writing Capstone
    • Persuasive Writing Capstone
    • Introduction to Paralegal Studies
    • Legal Research
    • Technology for Paralegals
    • Community Based Legal Studies EL
    • Business Organizations
    • Torts
    • Foundations of law
    • Civil Practice
    • Real Estate
    • Family law
    • Criminal Procedure and the Constitution
    • Contract Law

    Upper Electives (15-45 semester credit hours)

    • The Art of Negotiation
    • Constitutional Law
    • Comparative International Law
    • Alternative Dispute Resolution
    • Negotiation Fundamentals
    • Mediation Fundamentals
    • Ethics and Neutrality
    • Family Law
    • Criminal Law
    • Evidence and Criminal Procedure
    • Bankruptcy Law
    • Real Estate Law.
    • Estate Planning and Probate Law
    • Comparative Legal Analysis/Study Abroad
    • Legal Studies Special Topics
    • Study Abroad: Special Legal Topics
    • Employment and Labor Law
    • Paralegal Ethics and Certificate Review
    • International Law
    • Worker’s Compensation and Employment Benefit Law
    • Rules of Evidence
    • Advanced Tort Law
    • Law and Medicine
    • Administrative Law
    • Elder Law
    • Criminal Justice Ethics and Liability
    • Cultural Diversity for Criminal Justice Professional
    • Private Investigations I

    Internship – Externship

    All paralegal Bachelor degrees have an obligatory internship or externship. We have mentioned above the importance of completing an internship or externship. When you are choosing a Bachelor’s degree you should choose a program that is accredited by the ABA (American Bar Association).

    The average cost of a Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies Degree ranges from about $32, 000 -$80, 000
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    becoming a paralegal

    Step 2: Get a Paralegal Graduate Degree 2 to 12 months

    Paralegal Bachelor degree program graduates can advance their careers further by completing a graduate certificate or a Master’s degree. These degrees will give them a specialization and make them more employable with higher salaries.

    Paralegal Graduate Certificate Program 2 months – 6 months

    These short term programs are offered either online or on campus to individuals that possess a Bachelor’s or an Associate’s degree not only in paralegal studies but in any other relevant field.

    The requirements for this program are: Bachelor’s degree or Associates degree in a relevant field (sometimes a 2.5 GPA is required), be at least 18 years old, have some basic computer skills, and be fluent in the English language.

    These are 18-36 semester credit hours programs and you will be expected to complete courses like:

    • American Jurisprudence
    • Legal Research and Writing
    • Litigation
    • Contracts
    • Advanced Legal Writing
    • Business Entities
    • Legal terminology
    • Federal court structure
    • Utilization of legal forms
    • Interviewing clients
    • Legal research skills
    • Introduction to legal analysis
    • Legal Ethics

    The cost of these degrees range from $3, 500 -13, 500

    Paralegal Master’s Degree 1 year

    This is the most prestigious degree a paralegal can acquire. There are two types of Master’s degrees available for paralegals. Master’s degree at paralegal studies and Masters of legal studies. These degrees require 24-55 semester credit hours and are offered either online or on campus.

    The requirements vary from program to program, but some common requirements are Bachelor’s degree with a GPA of at least 2.5, fluency in the English language and 2 recommendation letters. The curriculum of these programs looks like:

    • Legal Research and Citation
    • Introduction to Graduate Legal Studies
    • Introduction to Law and Legal Reasoning
    • Theories of Justice
    • Seminar in Politics and Law or
    • Seminar in Courts and Policymaking
    • Public Advocacy
    • Business/corporate
    • Employment
    • Intellectual property
    • Public health
    • Environmental
    • International
    • Criminal
    • Public interest/Government
    • Real estate
    • Global Studies
    • International commerical law
    • International development/environment/law between governments
    • International human rights
    • Family law/social services
    • Constitutional law
    • American Jurisprudence
    • Legal Research and Writing
    • Litigation
    • Contracts
    • Advanced Legal Writing
    • Business Entities
    • Administrative Law
    • Government Contracts Law
    • International Law
    • Intellectual Property Law
    • Graduate Seminar or Thesis

    The cost of a Master’s degree range from $25,000 to $55,000
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    how long does it take to become a paralegal

    Step 3: Get a Paralegal Certification

    At this point we need to mention that paralegal certification has nothing to do with either undergraduate Paralegal certificate programs or graduate certificate programs that are issued by state universities or colleges.

    Paralegal certification is a recognition granted by an association or a non-governmental agency. It can be earned through examinations formed by the sponsoring associations for individuals that meet certain educational and experience standards.

    Getting certified in the US is not mandatory, but is highly suggested. There are four organizations that offer certification. They include:

    National Association of Legal Assistants

    Certifications: (CP) Certified Paralegal, (CLA) Certified Legal Assistant

    Requirements: There are 3 different types of education or experiences you can have in order to be eligible for this certification

    1)

    •  Having an associate’s degree on paralegal studies or
    • Graduated from a legal assistant or paralegal program approved by (ABA) American Bar Association or
    • Having a Bachelor’s degree on paralegal or legal assistant studies or
    • A post graduate certificate at paralegal or legal assistant studies or
    • A paralegal program that has at least 60 semester credit hours of which at least 15 of them are legal courses.

    2) A Bachelor’s degree in any field plus 1 year’s experience as a paralegal. 15 semester hours of legal assistant courses are considered equivalent to 1 year of experience as a paralegal.

    3) A high school diploma plus 7 years of experience as a paralegal under the supervision of an (ABA) American Bar Association member, plus proof of at least 20 semester credit hours of continuing legal education completed within 2 years prior to the examination date.

    Examination: The CP/CLA examination is a two day examination on procedure and federal law. The main subjects of examination are:

    • Communications
    • Legal Research
    • Ethics
    • Interviewing Techniques
    • Human Relations
    • Legal Terminology
    • Judgment & Analytical Ability

    The substantive law section is divided into 5 examinations on the American Legal System and 4, elective by the examinees, in areas of substantive law.

    Cost: $275

    National Federation of Paralegal Associations

    Certifications: (PCCE) Paralegal CORE Competency Exam, (PACE) Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam

    (PCCE) Paralegal CORE Competency Exam

    Requirements:

    • Any subject Bachelor’s degree, plus a paralegal graduate certificate or
    • Paralegal studies Bachelor’s degree or
    • Any subject Bachelor’s degree plus 6 months of working experience plus 1 hour of ethics courses taken in the year prior the exam or
    • Paralegal studies Associate’s degree or
    • Any subject Associate’s degree plus a paralegal graduate certificate or
    • Any subject Associate’s degree plus 1 year of working experience plus 6 hours of CLE, plus 1 hour of ethics courses taken in the year prior the exam or
    • Paralegal certificate from a program that meets the requirements of NFPA’s Short Term Paralegal Program Position Statement plus 1 year of working experience plus 6 hours of CLE, plus 1 hour of ethics courses taken in the year prior the exam or
    • High school diploma plus 5 years of working experience plus 12 hours of CLE plus 1 hour of ethics courses taken in the year prior to the exam

    Cost: $215

    (PACE) Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam

    Requirements:

    • Paralegal studies Associate’s Degree approved by ABA plus 6 years of working experience as a paralegal or
    • 4 years of working experience as a paralegal after 2000 or
    • Paralegal Bachelor’s degree plus 2 years of working experience as a paralegal or
    • Any subject Bachelor’s degree plus 3 years of working experience as a paralegal

    Cost: $250

    National Association for Legal Professionals

    Certifications: (PP) Professional Paralegal, (ALP) Accredited Legal Professional, (PLS) Professional Legal Secretary

    (PP) Professional Paralegal

    Requirements:

    • 5 years of working experience as a paralegal or a legal assistant or
    • Graduation from a paralegal program approved by ABA or
    • Paralegal studies Bachelor’s degree or
    • Graduate of a paralegal program that has at least 60 semester credit hours of which at least 15 of them are legal courses.
    • Any subject Bachelor’s degree plus 1 year of working experience as a paralegal.

    Examination: The examination is divided into 4 paths that cover:

    • Written Communications
    • Legal Knowledge and Skills
    • Ethics and Judgment Skills
    • Substantive Law

    Cost: $275

    (ALP) Accredited Legal Professional

    Requirements:

    • One accredited legal/business course or
    • Graduation from NALS Legal Training Course or
    • 1 year of working office experience

    Examination: The examination is divided into 3 paths that cover:

    • Written Communications
    • Office Procedures and Legal Knowledge
    • Ethics, Human Relations, and Judgment

    Cost: $125

    (PLS) Professional Legal Secretary

    Requirements:

    3 Years of working experience at the legal industry

    Examination: The examination is divided into 4 paths that cover:

    • Written Communications
    • Office Procedures and Technology
    • Ethics and Judgment Skills
    • Legal Knowledge and Skills

    Cost: $225

    American Alliance of Paralegals

    Certifications: (AACP) American Alliance Certified Paralegal

    Requirements:

    • Any subject Bachelor’s degree plus 5 years of working experience as a paralegal or
    • Paralegal studies Associate’s degree from a program accredited by ABA plus 5 years of working experience as a paralegal or
    • Paralegal studies certificate from a program accredited by ABA or is a voting member of the American Association for Paralegal Education, plus 5 years of working experience as a paralegal.

    Cost: $ –

    How long does it take to become a paralegal and how much it costs?

    Option 1 Certificate Program

     

    DegreeTime Cost
    Certificate (offline-online)7 months – 12 months$8,000 - $10, 000
    Total7 months – 12 months$8,000 - $10, 000

    Degree Time Cost
    Certificate (offline-online)7 months – 12 months$8,000 - $10, 000
    Certification 1 month$125 - $275
    Total 8 months – 13 months $8,125 - $10,275

    Option 2 Associate’s Degree

    DegreeTime Cost
    Associate's (online- offline)2 years$3,000 - $33,000
    Total2 years$3,000 to $33,000
    Degree Time Cost
    Associates Degree (online-offline)2 years$3,000 to $33,000
    Certification 1 month $125 - $275
    Total 2 years & 1 month $3,125 - $33,275
    DegreeTime Cost
    Associate's (online- offline)2 years$3,000 -$33,000
    Graduates Certificate 2 months – 6 months$3,500 - $13,500
    Certification1 month$125 - $275
    Total5 years & 1 month to 6 years$6,625 - $46,775

     Option 3 Bachelor’s Degree

    DegreeTime Cost
    Bachelor’s 4 years$32, 000 - $80, 000
    Total4 years$32, 000 -$80, 000
    Degree Time Cost
    Bachelor’s 4 years$32, 000 - $80, 000
    Certification 1 month - $125- $275
    Total 4 years & 1 month$32,125 - $80,275
    Degree Time Cost
    Bachelor’s 4 years$32, 000 - $80, 000
    Graduates Certificate 2 months – 6 months $3, 500 - $13, 500
    Total 4 and ½ years$35, 500 - $93, 500
    DegreeTime Cost
    Bachelor’s 4 years$32, 000 - $80, 000
    Graduates Certificate2 months – 6 months$3, 500 - $13, 500
    Certification1 month $125- $275
    Total4 and ½ years-5 years$35, 625 - $93, 775
    Degree Time Cost
    Bachelor’s 4 years$32, 000 - $80, 000
    Master’s 1 year$ 25, 000- $55, 000
    Total 5 years$ 57, 000 - $135, 000
    DegreeTime Cost
    Bachelor’s 4 years $32, 000 - $80, 000
    Master’s 1 year$25, 000- $55, 000
    Certification2 months- 6 months$125 - $ 275
    Total5 and ½ years$57, 125 - $135, 275
    DegreeTime Cost
    Bachelor’s4 years$32,000 - $80,000
    Graduate's Certificate 2 months – 6 months $3,500 - $13,500
    Master’s1 year$25,000- $55,000
    Certification 2 months- 6 months$125 - $ 275
    Total5 and ½ years - 6 years$60,625 - $148,775

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    Paralegal Training Video

     

     


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