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How to Become a Paralegal in 2021

October 4, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Law is one of the most lucrative career fields around the world. This field presents many career paths that you can pursue. Additionally, the law is one of the career fields that allow you to practice out of passion. However, you must undergo the necessary training depending on the legal career path you choose. Your choice of a career path determines how you live for the rest of your life. Therefore, you have to pay close attention to essential factors when deciding what to do as a future professional. In the legal profession, you can practice for as long as you wish. Most professionals that retire from public service venture into private law practice, guaranteeing personal satisfaction and income generation for a long time.

One of the career paths in the legal profession for people with an interest in criminal justice is being a paralegal. A paralegal, also referred to as a legal assistant or legal secretary, assists others through legal processes. A certified paralegal works closely with other legal professionals in the running of the legal system. With the increase in population, the need for legal representation also increases. Additionally, government regulations, such as licensing, involve legal procedures that could be accessed through paralegals. A paralegal could work as an independent professional or work in a law office with a lawyer as a litigation paralegal or corporate paralegal. To better understand the paralegal profession, its benefits, and how to become one, we look at the following:

To better understand the paralegal profession, its benefits, and how to become one, we look at the following:

  1. Paralegal career description duties and common tasks
  2. What to expect from a paralegal certificate program
  3. Necessary traits a paralegal should possess
  4. Components of a successful paralegal career

Paralegal Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

You must perform many roles as a professional paralegal in a law firm. The roles vary depending on various factors; one of them is the level at which you practice. Paralegals with higher educational qualifications, such as  law degrees, perform more complex duties. Understanding what is expected of you is essential in preparation for the career. It allows you to prepare mentally for situations you might face as a profession. Here are some duties you must perform as a paralegal.

  • Case Preparation

The main role of paralegal professionals is preparing cases for clients. Paralegals must organize necessary documents and brief lawyers on cases. As a paralegal, you must research and present crucial information that could help a case. You will be the critical link between a lawyer and their client. In some cases, you might have to draft necessary documents for legal purposes. Paralegals are, in some cases, required to interview witnesses and brief them on what to say before a court session.

  • Courtroom Assistance

Paralegal professionals play a pivotal role in court proceedings. They facilitate the smooth proceeding of court sessions. One of the main roles of paralegals in a courtroom includes evidence management. In this case, they present to court exhibits brought in by both parties in a trial. They also take important notes and review the trial or mediation transcripts. Paralegals working in a courtroom must be attentive and meticulous to avoid the loss of critical information.

  • Document Management

The main duty of paralegals working in a law office is document management. As a paralegal, you will be tasked with preparing essential case documents. Working as a paralegal means you will be required to read through case files and brief your clients on essential factors that need assistance. You will be required to draft letters for different legal purposes; these include appeal requests. You will be filing and keeping records of cases and other necessary documents within the firm. This implies that you need computer skills to integrate technology into your daily duties.

  • Communication and Coordination

Paralegal professionals are an important link between their clients and the legal system. For this reason, they must communicate important facts to their clients from the government. Legal information is needed for various purposes, including government certifications and licensing. Clients in need of such services could obtain crucial information from paralegal professionals. In such cases, a paralegal may have to initiate an application process and brief the client on the progress.

There are many other roles paralegals play in the legal profession. Some of these roles require soft skills for efficiency. For instance, communication skills are essential in cases where clients seek legal information from a paralegal. Some of the soft skills needed in the paralegal profession are taught in school. However, you develop new ones and improve on those taught as you gain work experience. The roles of a paralegal are not limited to specific people. Advancing your studies introduces you to new roles in the career.

What To Expect From A Paralegal Certificate Program

Like other careers, becoming a paralegal requires certain academic qualifications. The qualifications vary depending on the level of legal professional at which you wish to practice. The minimum educational level for you to be a paralegal is a certificate. There are many institutions in which you can enroll in a paralegal certificate program. The cost of a paralegal studies certificate program varies from one institution to another based on various factors. Additionally, the time you take to complete a certificate program is not standard. Several factors could affect your stay in school. However, most institutions and associate degree programs take a maximum of 2 years for a normal paralegal certificate program. Here are some factors that could affect the cost of obtaining a certificate in paralegal practice.

  • Quality of Training Offered

The paralegal education program you enroll in determines how much you will spend to get your certificate in paralegal practice. Tuition fees in these legal service courses vary depending on the location and facilities available at the institution. In most cases, well-equipped institutions tend to charge higher than the less equipped ones. Although they guarantee quality training to meet your job duties at a paralegal job, you will spend more than when you attend other institutions. Some paralegal training institutions are private entities that seek to make profits. The high tuition fee is to cater to the investment made in setting up the facilities and profits for the owners.

  • Duration of The Training Program

The tuition fee is not the only expense associated with a paralegal certificate program. There are several hidden factors such as rent and transport costs. How long you stay in school determines how much you will spend on rent and food bills. Syllabus scheduling is an internal aspect of the institution you enroll in. However, the total content to be covered in your paralegal studies certificate program is regulated by professional bodies, which implies that the institution determines how much you cover with a stated period. To be certified, you must have completed all the courses at paralegal school as set by the paralegal association. Some institutions are well equipped and ensure a lot is covered within a short time. Consequently, individuals in such institutions take shorter to complete their certificate programs.

  • Mode of study

Paralegal training institutions offer various modes of learning to cater to different classes of students. Some modes of study are cheaper and effective than others. Enrolling in an online program implies that you will cut down on the costs of rent and transport. With online learning, you can attend classes online and sit for a physical examination. Some institutions offer online examinations. You can attain your certificate in paralegal practice without having to step into the institution physically. If you have other commitments, you can enroll in part-time studies depending on your institution. With this mode, you cover very little at a time and could therefore take long before you complete your training. Consequently, you spend more on transport and rent if you choose to study on-campus.

There are many more factors that affect how much you spend on a paralegal certificate program. However, those mentioned above are ones that cut across all institutions. After obtaining your certificate, you can advance your studies to move up the career ladder. Most certificate holders in the paralegal profession upgrade to degree level after practicing for some time. To practice as an independent paralegal, you should have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in law or any other related course. This implies that upgrading your education is one way to freedom in your profession.

Here are some of the common differences between a law degree and certificate holders in the paralegal profession:

  • Roles played in the profession- As stated earlier, roles played by paralegals vary depending on their academic qualifications. Law degree holders play more technical roles, such as interviewing witnesses and verifying evidence. Additionally, a law degree holder can represent a client in a court. The role of paralegal certificate holders in courts is mostly clerical, including exhibit management and recording court proceedings. A law degree is superior to a certificate in paralegal practice, and a law degree holder can perform the roles of a paralegal. On the other hand, a paralegal cannot perform the roles of a lawyer. However, the two professionals could work together in the same office.
  • Income earned from the profession– one of the main factors determining how much you make is your job description. Technical roles played in any profession attract higher pay. In the legal profession, law degree holders play more critical roles than paralegal practice certificate holders. Additionally, a degree in law presents more income-generating opportunities. For instance, you can be certified to be an attorney with a law degree. This attracts more income as you can practice as an independent professional. There are several law degrees you can attain in your career. These include a master’s degree in law and a Ph.D. These degrees involve specializing in certain areas within the legal field. With the knowledge and skills attained in higher degree programs, you can be a consultant. Consultancy is one of the highest-paying professions in the services provision sector.

Several factors could be used to tell a paralegal practice certificate program. However, the most common characteristic is the skills taught in these programs. The training programs offer a wide range of skills that makes changing careers an easy task. For instance, you attain document management skills in a paralegal certificate program. With this skill, you can work in any other profession as a secretary or information manager.

Necessary Traits A Paralegal Should Possess

A paralegal professional handles a wide range of duties, including criminology and business law-related ones. Such duties require technical skills; some are taught in school while others are learned on the job. These skills determine how best you perform as a paralegal. Here are some of the technical skills you should have to be a successful paralegal professional:

  • Organizational Skills

One of the main roles of a paralegal is the preparation of legal documents for clients. This role requires proper organizational skills. You have to make information secure and easily accessible when needed. Organizational skills help you keep and share the required information at the right time. If you intend to work in court, organizational skills are essential in exhibit management. You need to prepare the exhibits presented in a way that you can access them without wasting time. Any damage or loss could stall the court process, hindering justice. As a professional, you need to organize your time, balancing the duties in you paralegal job description. Maintaining a balance between work and your personal life is important. Lack of organization could lead to spending too much time at work, which negatively impacts your personal life. The proper organization also gives you time to advance your studies and explore different opportunities within the profession.

  • Communication Skills

Communication is an essential element in the paralegal profession. As a paralegal, you are an important link at various levels within the legal system. Therefore, you need proper communication skills to pass the information across the levels you work at. For instance, a paralegal is supposed to communicate important case information between the court and lawyers. You might also have to pass information between the client and the lawyer or any other government representative in a legal process. Since a paralegal is also required to draft important legal documents, your writing skills should be perfect. This allows you to communicate best in both written and spoken exchanges with stakeholders in the industry.

  • Research and Investigative Skills

Case preparation is one of the technical roles played by paralegals in the legal field. This task requires a combination of both research and investigative skills to be executed. Your research skills come into play when asked to find critical information about a case. You are required to find out all the legal and logical aspects that could affect judgment when a case is presented in court. In some cases, you might have to interview witnesses and clients on behalf of a lawyer. This task requires investigative skills to tell whether the facts are consistent or not. In some cases, witnesses could be coerced to tell a lie. As a paralegal, you must tell genuine witnesses from the rest for the desired outcome in a court of law. If someone is seeking representation in court, you might be required to interview them for all facts about their case. Investigative skills allow you to tell potential loopholes in their story in preparation for a defense.

  • Technology Skills

Technological advancements affect all industries; the legal field is not exempt. If you are a paralegal, technology skills are a must-have in the modern world. Aspects such as information storage are digitized. You need computer skills to store and retrieve critical information from databases. The digitization of information has made it easier and more secure to store case files in the legal field. Additionally, people seek representation through various platforms. Digital communication is one of the many ways to share information between paralegals and clients. Through platforms such as Skype, you can interview a witness who is miles away. This is not only cost-effective but also saves time spent in preparing cases.

There are many other skills you need to succeed in the paralegal profession. It is easier to develop essential skills as a paralegal if you prepare adequately before entering the career. For instance, you need to perform well in key subjects required by NALA for admission into paralegal schools. Understanding your abilities helps you choose a career wisely. While working, you need to constantly update your skills through short courses and workshops organized by various stakeholders. Updated skills keep you relevant in the industry for a long time.

Components of A Successful Paralegal Career

Various factors determine your success as a professional paralegal. Some of the factors you can control on a personal level, but the industry controls others. While entering the paralegal profession is easy, many people find it hard to survive or grow in the career. One of the best ways to succeed as a paralegal is by advancing your legal studies. Advancing your studies increases your employability but also equips you with diverse skills for survival in the industry. There are various educational levels you can advance to in your paralegal career. These include:

  • A Bachelor’s Degree in Law

One way to climb the career ladder as a paralegal is by attaining a bachelor’s degree in law. A law degree increases the scope of your practice as a paralegal. Instead of doing clerical work in court, you could be representing clients. There are many branches of law that you can study. Your choice of specialization depends on your target audience as well as qualifications in your certification program. If you are interested in business, you can pursue a degree in business law. The same applies to other forms of law, including international law.

  • Certificate in International Paralegal Practice

Every country has laws and legal procedures that need to be followed by citizens. However, these laws vary from one country to another, depending on their cultural values. To work in more than one country as a paralegal professional, you need a certificate from international legal authorities. You must undergo training and tests to be licensed to practice beyond international borders. At this level, you will be involved in legal procedures involving two or more nations. For instance, you could be part of the legal teams handling international conflicts. International paralegal training programs focus on international law. This makes it easier for you to succeed if you have a bachelor’s degree in international law.

  • Education on Technology Use in The Legal Sector

Technology is an important tool in delivering justice in the modern world. After becoming a paralegal, you should undergo technology training to remain relevant in the profession. One of the main benefits of technology is improved security and access to essential legal information. With duties such as documenting important information for courts and clients, computer skills are a great tool to success in this field. You can learn about technology in the legal sector through short courses organized by paralegal institutions. Alternatively, attending workshops organized by players in the legal field provide a good opportunity to learn some skills.

There are many other skills you need to learn for success in the paralegal field. However, you should understand that none of these skills are taught to you to perfection. In most cases, you learn the basics. You will perfect the skills as you continue to practice in the field. Although education is important, it does not guarantee employment after school. You should be proactive to secure employment in this field. Networking plays an essential role in creating meaningful connections with potential employers and partners. Additionally, you learn more through networking with other stakeholders in the paralegal profession.

There are many employers in the paralegal field, each with different benefits. This makes it hard to find suitable employment, especially at the early stages of your career. Employers play an important role in your career development. This implies that you might find it hard to rise as a professional if you end up in the wrong job. Here are some important factors to consider when applying for a job.

  • Job description- A job description refers to what you are expected to do when employed in an organization. Different employers offer different job descriptions to potential employees. When applying for a job as a paralegal, you should pay attention to the job description provided. Some employers require you to do a lot of work within a short time. Being overworked affects your mental and physical well-being. Consequently, your career growth slows. As a paralegal, you could be handling documents and evidence meant for high-profile cases. Your security should be guaranteed as some accused persons could be violent and want to destroy the evidence.
  • Salaries paid- One of the main reasons to enter a career is for financial gains. When applying for a job, ensure the amount you get paid matches the amount of work done. Some employers could overwork you and underpay at the same time. Little or delayed salaries have a direct impact on your financial status. This affects your career growth since you need money to advance your studies or start a private practice. The jobs you get depends on what you specialize in during your studies. Therefore, you should assess the salary outlook for professionals in your preferred specialization. This allows you to gauge the possible returns on the investment you make in education.  

In Summary

The paralegal profession forms an integral part of the legal field. Paralegals work jointly with other professions in the legal field to ensure the delivery of justice. There are various roles played by paralegals, the main one being case preparation. Paralegals also play important roles during court sessions; they handle the exhibits presented and document the court proceedings. There are various skills you need to be a successful paralegal. Some of these skills are taught in your paralegal program, while you learn others, like legal research, in the field. Technology is a key element of operations within the legal field and paralegal practice. Having skills in technology makes it easier for you to be retained by employers. Additionally, it makes your work easier as storage and retrieval of information are improved.

There are many ways of rising through the ranks as a professional paralegal. However, the best way to rise is by improving your legal studies. There are many courses you can study to become a better paralegal. These courses include law; attaining a bachelor’s degree in any branch of law allows you to perform more complex duties. There are many branches of law that you can specialize in. You must assess your capabilities and select a branch of law that best suits you. You need additional certifications to practice beyond national borders. With advanced education, you are exposed to more employment opportunities. However, not all employment opportunities could be suitable. You should analyze the job description and salary provided before settling on a job opportunity.

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