How can I Become a Paralegal?

Harrison Barnes

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Would you like to enter the legal industry? There are a variety of legal jobs that you can do without having to be a lawyer. In particular, one position that a lot of people look into is becoming a paralegal. The good news is that you do not necessarily need a legal background or to go to law school. Let’s take a look at what a paralegal is and whether this is the right career for you.

What is a Paralegal?

When you are a paralegal, you have a very important role to play in the legal industry. Namely, you are going to be supporting and assisting lawyers on a number of tasks. This can include:
 

  • Researching case law
  • Investigating facts for a court case
  • Interviewing clients and taking notes
  • Talking to witnesses and getting their statements
  • Drafting legal documents
  • Taking on legal research

There are some people that think a paralegal is the same as a legal assistant. However, this is not true. While these terms used to be used interchangeably in the legal industry, they are now very different. In particular, paralegals are going to deal with a lot more legal aspects in their day-to-day roles, whereas legal assistants now focus on administrative duties.

It is important to note that paralegals are not qualified to give out legal advice to clients. This is the role that is reserved for lawyers. Instead, paralegals are expected to work under the supervision of a lawyer. This does not mean that the role is less important. In fact, it is an essential one in the busy legal industry and paralegals are essential in the preparation of cases.

Normally, when you are a paralegal, you will work at least 40 hours per week. This is usually in an office setting but some travel might be required to carry out your duties, such as research, to gather documents or to conduct interviews. In addition, you will have to be prepared to do more hours when it is required. This may be needed to meet deadlines and if you are involved in a complicated case.

What Skills Do You Need?

There are a variety of skills that a good paralegal should possess. This is going to make you good at your job. Most of them can be learned over. So, let’s take a closer look at these skills.

Good Communication Skills

In order to be a good paralegal, you should be confident and have good communication skills. You are going to be doing a lot of talking to clients during the day and you will also have to communicate with lawyers. It will be beneficial to work on the best way to address different parties.

Writing Skills

Paralegals do a lot of writing in their day-to-day roles. This means that this is a skill that you have to possess and it is going to make your job a lot easier. For example, you might have to draft contracts and help with pleadings. Therefore, prior experience writing legal documents will be highly beneficial. But this is something you can also learn over time on the job.

Research Skills

Another skill you need is to do with research. Again, this is something that you are going to be doing every day as a paralegal. You will have to use your skills to uncover useful information that is going to help an attorney in a case. This can be through reading legal journals and books to researching online. It will be your duty to find most of the research for a lawyer and they may instruct you on where you can start this duty.

Citation Knowledge

If you are a law student, you will know how important it is to know the citation rules. It is something that you use every day. While it is not the most interesting thing to know, having this knowledge is also going to be essential in the legal world. For example, you will have to cite legal authorities in order for attorneys to use them in a case.

Organizational Skills

Paralegals are going to have a lot of paperwork and documents on their desks every day. This means that you need to stay organized in order to deal with it all. You need to know how to prioritize and set deadlines, as well as manage your tasks effectively. Since you are working alongside attorneys, you staying organized and on top of tasks is essential. The legal world has a fast-paced environment and you may have to change direction at any time. So, you need to be prepared for anything.

Good at Teamwork

If you are a paralegal, there is a chance that you may not work alone. Some law firms have teams of paralegals helping out an attorney. This means that you will have to work well together with other professionals to get a job done. While sharing the workload sounds like a good idea, you need to ensure that you are able to communicate and stay organized. Thus, it will be beneficial if you are used to getting along and working with different personalities to prepare you for the legal office.

Do I Have to Go to Law School?

We find that a lot of people that become paralegal were not sure if they really wanted to be lawyers. Therefore, they want to enter the legal industry but not have as much responsibility and stress. A lot of the time, you do not have to go to law school to be a paralegal.

It is important to note that even if you do decide to work as a paralegal, you can still become a lawyer later on. Often, this is a great way to see what the industry is like before you commit a lot of time and effort to law school. Of course, we all know that it can be expensive to become a lawyer too. So, you want to be sure that it is the right career for you.

What Education Do I Need?

You will need a certain amount of education to become a paralegal. But there is not just one way you can enter this career. Instead, you are going to have a few options. Let’s take a look at them to choose the right path for you.

Most paralegal jobs are going to ask you to have a degree. Normally, this is going to be a four-year degree, but the good news is that it does not have to be a legal subject. Indeed, some employers will accept a related subject. You can then earn a certificate in paralegal studies. This is going to involve completing coursework, such as legal writing and research.

Other employers might want you to have some work experience first. This may have to be legally related or in an office environment. However, this is not going to be everyone. Indeed, there are plenty of law firms that will hire someone straight after they have graduated from college.

How Easy Is It to Find a Paralegal Job?

After you have been university, you are probably wanting a job straight away. After all, you probably have your student loan and other debts that you need to start paying back. Plus, you will be excited to enter the real world and get into the legal industry.

Of course, the number one question on your mind is; how easy is it to find a paralegal job right now? Well, we have some good news. The job outlook looks very positive for paralegals. In fact, there is looking to be a growth in the number of paralegals that are needed in the legal industry in the next 10 years. This means that there should be more jobs available.

What is the Average Salary for a Paralegal?

Another popular question surrounded the average salary of a paralegal. A lot of students worry that because you do not need a legal degree, the salary may be lousy and not enough to start paying back student loans. However, this is not always true. The average wage is a respectable $51,740. This can grow up to $82,500 when you have extensive experience.

Of course, there are going to be a number of factors that will affect your average salary as a paralegal. For instance, the legal firm that you work for is ultimately going to decide how much you get paid. Your duties and the size of that firm will affect your salary, as well as your own skills, qualifications and experience.

Indeed, your salary is going to be important to you. However, if it is going to be your first paralegal job, you may have to take a lower wage to begin with. This can let you work up and earn more. There are also going to be legal jobs that you enjoy and this might mean that you have to sacrifice a larger salary for a better work-life balance. Do not be discouraged from applying for a job that you want because of the salary. There can be other benefits.