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How To Become a Paralegal

Did you have one of those light bulb moments after seeing the likes of Judge Judy, Erin Brockovich and Legally Blonde, and now you are thinking of partaking in courtroom drama and oftentimes humor yourself?

If you don't want to become a full-fledged lawyer (although that is always a possibility in the future as you can eventually cross over) but you love to become qualified to work for a lawyer, law office, corporation, government agency or any other practice environment, then becoming a paralegal, which is also known as legal assistant, is the step you have to take - it will arm you with the certification or degree which is oftentimes necessitated for you to be able to dabble in the paralegal field, and of course the right skill set every paralegal should have.

But then to become a competent paralegal that will make you attain the career you've been dreaming about, then you need to get prepared for such. And the best way to do so is by getting a paralegal degree.

Envisioning yourself involved in the various auxiliary aspects of the law one day? Then this article is for you! Below you will come across everything that you need to know in order to get your career in the paralegal world kick started - which type of paralegal degree you should get and how to apply to become a student.

Why Get a Certification or Degree?

If you're dead serious about becoming a good legal assistant, then getting yourself prepared for the exciting yet for sure really challenging career is of utmost importance. We all know that no one is above the law, and that's why there are lawyers to help keep that universal fact safe and sound. With so many things that a lawyer has to carry out, he or she oftentimes have the need to delegate certain tasks to a paralegal - from conducting legal research, drafting documents to organizing files.

The point is being a paralegal and a good one at that is no picnic. And this is why getting all the preparation you need prior to stepping foot in the paralegal waters is of the essence.

You may be thinking about a very important question: do you really need to obtain a certification or degree just to be able to become a legal assistant? A quick answer to that is: yes, you need to get your hands on a certification or degree if you are intending to become a paralegal.

Most paralegals out there have some type of degree, be it a certificate or diploma, or an associate degree or higher. Just imagine how impressed an employer would be to see on your resume that you have attended school just to earn a paralegal certification or degree - not only it would show how committed you are to becoming a good legal assistant, but also suggest that it will be easier for you to learn the ropes because you already have the basic skill set!

In a nutshell, studying to obtain a degree can help you land a lucrative paralegal job.

Different Types of Degrees for Different People

So now comes another very important question you need to ask yourself before becoming a paralegal: "what type of paralegal degree should I go for?"

Actually, there are some lawyers or law firms that hire individuals to become legal assistants even if they have no paralegal certification or degree. But since there are so many different important tasks that a paralegal has to perform, just imagine the quality of work that someone who doesn't have the know-how can provide!

If your goal is not only to become any paralegal but one who can definitely take on the challenges posed by the tasks a lawyer delegates, then getting at least a certificate makes perfect sense.

Besides, according to surveys, a lot of the most successful paralegals out there are armed with at least a 4-year bachelor's degree. With various degrees available for you to choose from, then becoming one of the best paralegals around can be tailored to meet your specific needs - getting a paralegal certificate or degree is highly flexible!

A Quick Look at the Various Degrees

Dabbling in the paralegal field has never been easier, what with the thousands of universities, colleges and various other training institutions that educate as well as train students to become paralegals. Generally speaking, it's a good idea to opt for a program that has the approval of the American Bar Association or ABA, although it's just one of the several different factors that one has to consider when planning on becoming trained as a legal assistant.

One of those many things to be considered include the paralegal degree that you wish to obtain. Fortunately, there are a handful of degrees available, each one suited for a particular amount of time and resources that an individual has or is willing to commit for a career as an assistant to a lawyer.

Paralegal Certificate or Diploma:

Most law firms or other practice environments where lawyers are in need of legal assistants require paralegals to present a paralegal certificate or diploma. Commonly, a program that provides paralegal certificate or diploma is designed for individuals who already have college bachelor's degrees or college credits in a different subject.

While obtaining a paralegal certificate or diploma is the most time- and cost-efficient option for anyone who wishes to become a legal assistant as it usually takes one 1 to 2 years to complete, do take note that when applying a job you will always compete with paralegal applicants who have more competitive paralegal degrees.

  • Pros: It allows you to save a lot of time and money in your quest to become a legal assistant because a paralegal certificate or diploma takes no more than 2 years to obtain. It's perfect for somebody who is in a rush to obtain the minimum requirement to be able to be hired as a paralegal.
  • Cons: Not all lawyers, law firms and other environments where the assistance of paralegals are sought hire legal assistants who have paralegal certificates or diplomas only. Also, if you are looking to be promoted one day, then it's a much better idea for you to opt for a higher degree.

Paralegal Associate Degree:

A lot of law firms, companies, government agencies and others expect paralegal applicants to have at least a paralegal associate degree. Programs that allow you to obtain such commonly require you to have a high school diploma or General Educational Diploma (GED), as well as dedicate about 2 years of your life as it usually takes that long to complete.

Typically offered at community colleges where night classes are provided for the benefit of individuals who have to work during the day, getting a paralegal associate degree enables you to learn various important matters such as the basics of law as well as various associated terminologies, file legal documents, write reports, carry out legal research, and conduct investigative interviews.

Some educational institutions that offer paralegal associate degree also include an internship phase during which you will actually work as a legal assistant to gain experience.

  • Pros: Getting a paralegal associate degree is time-efficient as well as flexible because many community colleges offer night classes, which are suitable for individuals who are already working. Also, the internship phase enables a soon-to-be paralegal to have hands-on experience in the field.
  • Cons: When applying for a job, you will always be competing with applicants with bachelor's or master's paralegal degrees, who are basically more preferred by employers. Also, your earnings may not be as high as the earnings of those with higher degrees.

Paralegal Bachelor's Degree:

Requirements to get into schools that offer paralegal bachelor's degree tend to vary, but it's not unlikely for all of them to require students to have a high school diploma or GED, usually meeting a minimum GPA.

Compared to obtaining an associate degree in paralegal studies, getting a paralegal bachelor's degree is more intensive as it offers a more detailed look at legal studies - included courses are civil practice, negotiation, legal ethics and forensic science. It's for such reason why you usually have to spend 3 to 4 years in school. Some of the degrees that you may earn include Bachelor of Arts in Paralegal Studies (BA Paralegal Studies) and Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies (BS Paralegal Studies).

  • Pros: Having a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies allows you have a more-in depth approach to legal studies, and this results in more opportunities for you as a legal assistant. This only means better jobs, higher salaries, and increased chances of getting a promotion.
  • Cons: Because of the intensive coursework involved, you usually have to spend 3 to 4 years of your life attending classes in order to earn your paralegal degree. Getting a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies may prove to be disadvantageous for those who are currently working.

Paralegal Master's Degree:

Do you already work as a legal assistant or have previous experience as a paralegal and now you want to take your law-related career to the next level? Then it's a good idea for you to obtain a master's degree in paralegal studies, which particularly allows you to earn a Master of Science in Paralegal Studies (MS in Paralegal Studies). Usually completes in about 2 years, it enables you to concentrate on the law in a more theoretical manner which requires you to accomplish various projects - testing your research and legal writing skills in the process.

There are educational institutions that offer paralegal master's degree after office or business hours as well as on the internet, which is beneficial for individuals who already have careers.

  • Pros: If you already have a job and you want to pursue a higher degree in paralegal studies, getting a paralegal master's degree is made convenient because of flexibility in schedule, plus the option to obtain the degree online is always a possibility.
  • Cons: Since it is usually designed for those who already have careers in the paralegal world, time for attending classes has to be devoted. While there are online classes that enable students to enjoy a number of perks, there are also a handful of cons associated with it, which will be discussed later.
  • Online Paralegal Degree

    Speaking of the internet, this technological wonder caters to those who are looking to obtain paralegal degrees but have neither easy access to a brick-and-mortar institution nor the time to attend classes in the traditional manner. In other words, getting a paralegal degree online is for people who are in need of utmost convenience and flexibility in starting up or furthering their careers in the paralegal field.

    Needless to say, obtaining a paralegal degree by means of the world wide web entails access to a computer that's hooked to the net. And also, the individual should be well-versed with using a computer as well as the internet in order to be able to complete the course.

    • Pros: Getting a paralegal degree online provides utmost convenience as the person who wants to become a legal assistant only has to log on the internet - at a time that is most convenient to him or her, as well as at a pacing that suits the individual.
    • Cons: A lot of discipline and determination is necessitated in order for you to be able to obtain your paralegal degree online. Some people are simply more able to learn in a highly-structured environment that only brick-and-mortar learning institutions can provide.

    Tips on How to Get Started

    Already have an idea on which type of paralegal degree will suit your particular needs and preferences? If so, then the next step that you need to take is getting admitted to the school which provides the kind of degree that you are aiming for. With so many choices these days, being on your way to becoming a paralegal should not be that difficult.

    Below you will find some of the things that need to be done to get the ball rolling.

    Check Out Admission Requirements:

    One of the most important things that you need to do in order to get your legal assistant career kick started is by finding out about admission standards. Different universities, colleges, community colleges and online learning institutions have different requirements. For instance, it's not unlikely for one school to require applicants to have quite a lot of college credits, while another may not require applicants to have any college credit in order to get admitted.

    Research, research, research - it's what you need to do in order to determine whether you can be admitted as a student at the learning institution that you are eyeing.

    Accomplish Admission Process:

    Just like the admission standards, the admission process itself also tends to vary from one school to the other. Again, it's very important for you to research the processes that you have to carry out.

    For instance, most paralegal programs being provided by colleges that offer various 4-year courses usually require an applicant to undergo an interview conducted by the admissions officers, as well as present a written description of his or her achievements, interests and other vital matters - a personal statement has to be provided, in short.

    On the other hand, open admissions are usually offered by community colleges and other training or learning institutions, brick-and-mortar or operating on the internet alike.

    In order to be sure about the admission process and avoid any untoward issue, it's a good idea for you to get in touch with the admissions counselor if you have questions. Doing so also enables you to discuss other matters that are pertinent to you, such as class schedules, financial assistance and job services.

    Paralegal Schools To Consider

    There are many legal schools to choose from. Getting started isn't always easy. Below you will find a few colleges that offer paralegal studies programs.

    Pay for Your Training or Education:

    If you require financial assistance like most students do, then you will have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FASFA. Something that is offered free of charge, it determines whether or not an individual like you who is looking to obtain a degree in paralegal studies is eligible for federal student aid. The same application also helps determine if you are eligible for things like work-study, low-interest loans for students and federal grants.

    Eyeing a scholarship? Then completing FASFA also lets you see if you can secure eligibility for scholarship opportunities commonly offered by numerous paralegal associations in your area.

    Inquire About Much-Needed Internship:

    Near the end of the program, internships are commonly provided by schools offering paralegal degrees, which means the students are sent to actual workplaces where they can carry out the various things they have learned in their paralegal trainings. Having hands-on experience in the paralegal industry can be highly valuable once the students have earned their respective paralegal degrees.

    In some cases, students are actually retained by the lawyers, law firms, government agencies or companies that their schools have sent them to. In other words, they get hired to work full-time for them the moment that they have successfully completed their internships as well as obtained their paralegal degrees.

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