How to Become a Paralegal:
The Definitive Guide


Are you the type of person who loves to be in the middle of the drama, and you thrive on doing your civic duty?

If you are interested in a career in law, then you may want to take a look at becoming a Paralegal.

As a Paralegal, you’ll get to investigate cases, collect documents, assist lawyers, and even draft pleadings or motions.

This career can be a great step in your endeavor into the world of law.

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What is a Paralegal?

A Paralegal can be considered the assistant to a lawyer.

This means that in this career, you’ll get to do things like prepare for trials, hearings, and maintain communication with clients.

However, a Paralegal is not allowed to represent clients in court, or other “law practicing” activities.

Some Paralegals will assist clients with wills, contracts, mortgages, and others who may have to interview witnesses or clients.

Working in this field means that you will have to wear many hats, often more than one at a time.

Duties

The duties for a Paralegal can vary depending on the law office or attorney that employs them.

Typical daily requirements include:

  • Conducting interviews with clients
  • Locating witnesses
  • Conducting investigations
  • Doing legal research
  • Summarizing depositions
  • Attending executions of wills etc.
  • Drafting legal documents
  • Attending meetings, administrative hearings, and trials with an attorney

Salary

The average salary for a Paralegal in the United States is around $55,000 a year.

Depending on how long you’ve worked as a Paralegal, and if you have any specializations, it’s possible to make up to $80,000 a year.

Those that are just starting out in the career can expect around $45,000 a year to begin.

Most people that are interested in law use this career as a stepping stone into a career as an attorney.

This means that there are several ways to advance and earn more in this career.

The ways to advance include earning certain specializations or certifications.

These can be obtained after you’ve completed your education as well as had some experience as a Paralegal, typically around a year.

The top five states to work as a Paralegal are Washington D.C., Colorado, California, Massachusetts, and Washington.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $55,020

$32K
$39K
$55K
$65K
$82K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$47,380
Alaska$56,360
Arizona$50,940
Arkansas$40,820
California$61,810
Colorado$62,250
Connecticut$60,240
Delaware$57,140
District of Columbia$82,010
Florida$51,130
Georgia$54,440
Hawaii$54,530
Idaho$48,110
Illinois$59,960
Indiana$48,280
Iowa$50,140
Kansas$44,460
Kentucky$44,650
Louisiana$50,140
Maine$52,320
Maryland$56,890
Massachusetts$61,650
Michigan$51,790
Minnesota$57,390
Mississippi$45,960
Missouri$48,160
Montana$46,270
Nebraska$53,010
Nevada$58,110
New Hampshire$55,930
New Jersey$60,300
New Mexico$49,020
New York$58,070
North Carolina$47,370
North Dakota$46,660
Ohio$48,210
Oklahoma$46,950
Oregon$57,970
Pennsylvania$55,490
Rhode Island$52,440
South Carolina$46,540
South Dakota$49,130
Tennessee$49,830
Texas$54,430
Utah$52,200
Vermont$49,050
Virginia$52,520
Washington$60,840
West Virginia$48,580
Wisconsin$50,380
Wyoming$45,250
Guam$43,470
Puerto Rico$37,500
Virgin Islands$59,470

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $82,010.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

District of Columbia - $82,010
Colorado - $62,250
California - $61,810
Massachusetts - $61,650
Washington - $60,840
*Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey.
Conducted by: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become a Paralegal

Step 1Earn an Associates Degree

The most important thing to do when trying to become a Paralegal is to gain an education.

Most Paralegals have at least an Associate’s degree, but others may have a Bachelor’s degree.

A typical Associates degree can take around two years to complete.

Many community colleges and universities offer programs for people interested in becoming a Paralegal.

It’s important to make sure the school you are looking to attend is accredited, that way you can be sure you have the appropriate knowledge.

During a Paralegal program, you can expect to take classes like:

  • Introduction to Law
  • Paralegal Research
  • Organization Law
  • Business Communications
  • Legal Ethics

And many more.

Some schools even offer specialty courses so that you can craft your career how you want.

These courses may include:

  • Intellectual Property
  • Trusts and Wills
  • Immigration Law
  • Bankruptcy

Most colleges require the completion of 60 credit hours before you can graduate.

Step 2Begin Working

After you graduate from an accredited program, it’s time to start looking for work.

Most of the time, as a Paralegal, you’ll have worked an internship during your educational program, so you may already have a spot at a law firm.

An internship provides a hands-on experience so that you know what to do when you start your career.

If you did not have an internship, now is the time to start looking for employment.

Some of the places you may find employment other than a law office include:

  • Banks
  • Insurance companies
  • Government agencies
  • Corporate organizations

Paralegals are in need in both private and public sectors, you may not start out working where you thought you would, but doors can open up anywhere.

Step 3Gain Experience

The next important thing under education is experience.

If you know what you are doing as a Paralegal, and if you have experience with many different types of law, you will find more employment opportunities.

Use this time to figure out what it is you want to do with law, and if you want to continue on in your education.

In order to get the most out of your time as a Paralegal, some of the most essential things to remember are:

  • Continue networking
  • Have a great resume
  • Always have a plan
  • Join a local Paralegal association
  • Find a mentor
  • Have a good attitude
  • Work hard, but don’t compromise your morals

Step 4Earn Certification

Once you have the experience, it’s time to show the world that you have the know-how.

That means it’s time to gain certification as a Paralegal.

There are several different certifications that you can earn as a Paralegal and even many in different specialties that can show your prowess in certain areas of law.

A few of the Paralegal associations that you can gain certification through are the National Association of Legal Assistants, American Allegiance of Paralegals,  and the National Federation of Paralegals.

Under the National Association of Legal Assistants, it’s possible to earn several certifications:

  • Accredited Legal Professional
  • Professional Legal Secretary
  • Professional Paralegal
  • Specialty Certificates

The American Allegiance of Paralegals offers the American Alliance Certified Paralegal accreditation.

In order to gain this certification, you must have at least six years of experience in the field.

The National Federation of Paralegals provides the CRP and RP exams, which are Core Registered Paralegal and Registered Paralegal.

Each certification provides unique experiences, and the exams may differ depending on the state in which you take them.


Education

It’s possible to earn an Associate’s degree and have a great career as a Paralegal.

However, some lawyers do require that Paralegals that work for them have a Bachelor’s degree.

Since this is not a requirement by law, we will only be talking about how to obtain an Associate’s degree as a Paralegal.

Many community colleges and universities have programs to become a Paralegal.

Most of these programs will take around two years to complete.

Which is roughly around 60 credit hours, depending on the university you attend.

Some of the things that you can expect to learn during your time in school include:

  • Fundamental Paralegal skills
  • Legal research skills
  • Foundations of law that can help you with your Bachelor’s degree
  • Criminal practice and procedures

You will learn quite a lot of information within a Paralegal program, some of the classes that you can expect to take in your two-year program include:

  • Law Practice Management
  • Tort Law
  • Real Estate Transactions
  • Estate and Probation Administration
  • Principles of Financial Accounting

As well as courses like social science, humanities, and other law electives.

There may be several types of law electives to take in your program, these can be:

  • Family law
  • Law of businesses
  • Contract law
  • Litigations

The type of electives you decide to take will likely depend on the kind of law you are interested in pursuing.

It is even possible to take courses online, which adds to the convenience.

Some Paralegal programs require an internship at a law office, while others do not.

This depends on the program, and it is up to you to decide if you need more experience with real-life workplaces.

Many attorneys and law offices require some sort of internship or training before they will hire you as a Paralegal, so make sure you know what is necessary of you.

Video About The Career


Certification

Certification for a Paralegal is not the same as having a university degree.

However, a certification as a Paralegal can show employers and clients that you have the education and knowhow to do the job right.

There are a few different certifications that can be obtained from unique associations.

First, there is the Core Registered Paralegal certification from the National Federation of Paralegal Association.

You can also earn a certification as a Registered Paralegal through the same association.

The National Association of Legal Assistants has the Certified Paralegal and Advanced Certified Paralegal certifications.

The Association for Legal Professionals has Professional Paralegal and the Specialty certifications.

Taking an exam in order to become certified can cost around $200-$275 depending on the certification you are after.

In order to apply for an exam, you must have an Associates degree in Paralegal.

You also must have at least one year of Paralegal experience.

Once you have applied to take an exam and been accepted you have to schedule with the PSI, which has testing areas around the country.

Some of the types of information you can expect on a typical certification exam include:

  • Communications
  • Ethics
  • Legal Research
  • Substantive Law
  • Judgment and Analytical Ability

After five years, you’ll need to renew your certification.

This can be done by completing at least 50 hours of continued legal education, which includes five hours of legal ethics.

The Specialty certification is a way to showcase your talents in the field, by proving your knowledge in:

  • Administrative law
  • Business law
  • Immigration law
  • Insurance law
  • Intellectual property
  • Juvenile law

And many more.

If you are looking for advanced certification, you may want to think about the Paralegal Specialist Certification.

In order to qualify for this certification, you have to be a Certified Paralegal in good standing.

Some of the areas that you can get into with a Paralegal Specialist Certification are:

  • Estate planning
  • Real estate
  • Family law
  • Business organizations
  • Trademarks
  • Corporations

Every avenue you take when pursuing certification will open many more doors in the law career you choose.

Certification Example:

paralegal certificate

Average Training Program Duration: 2-4 Years

The average training program for certification as a Paralegal really depends on you.

Typically, Paralegals don’t gain certifications until after they’ve had about a year’s worth of experience.

After that, it’s up to you.

Depending on what certification you apply for, you can typically hear an answer about whether you qualify to take the exam for that certification in about two weeks.

Taking the test depends on when you are available, and when a testing site can seat you.

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Job Outlook

It looks to be that becoming a Paralegal may be smart to do within the next decade.

The job is projected to rise by around 12 percent in the next ten years.

Law firms around the country are trying to increase their efficiency, which means they will likely hire more Paralegals in the future.

These law firms are also trying to reduce the cost of their employees, and it is likely that a Paralegal will require less salary than a lawyer.

Having in-house counsel for large companies is becoming a big thing in recent years as well.

This cuts down on costs, as well as provides counsel for finance and insurance firms, consulting firms, and healthcare providers.

Employment Growth Projection: 12%

325,700
2018
364,800
2028

That's a higher than average projected growth of 39,100 jobs.

Paralegal: Interest Over Time


Should You Become a Paralegal?

Overall Satisfaction: Medium

Overall Satisfaction

A career as a Paralegal can be a very fulfilling job for some, and often too stressful for others.

The satisfaction of this career can depend on several things, such as which attorney or law firm that you work for, and how many clients you get in a week.

Those that can handle high-pressure situations tend to be more satisfied in their job as a Paralegal.

Some things to consider when becoming a Paralegal is that you won’t have as much advancement in the field until you earn a Bachelor’s degree.

Paralegals often work overtime as well, this can be great for some and stressful on others.

Average Salary: Medium

Average Salary

The average salary for a Paralegal is around $55,000 a year.

For those that are working in smaller law firms or in small areas, they can expect to make around $45,000 a year.

The highest-paid Paralegals work in Washington D.C., and they can make around $80,000 a year.

The amount of education, experience, and specializations you have can also determine your salary as a Paralegal.

Those that work in the private sector may make more than Paralegals working in public sectors as well.

Job Growth Outlook: Medium

Job Growth Outlook

It seems that there are more and more opportunities for Paralegals to work in the United States every day.

The job growth outlook for this career is exceptional.

You can expect this career to rise at around 12 percent in the next decade.

This is much more than many other careers in the same field.

The increase in the need for Paralegals is due to several things.

One of these reasons is that many firms and companies don’t want to pay the lawyers to do the office work, that’s where Paralegals come in.

It’s possible to work as a Paralegal in a law firm for many years.

Education Duration: 2-4 Years

Education Duration

In order to work as a Paralegal, you’ll need to have an Associate’s degree from an accredited school.

Community colleges in your area may offer a Paralegal program, as well as universities across the country.

Increasingly, attorneys and law offices are requiring their Paralegals to earn a Bachelor’s degree, but this depends on the firm and is not required by law.

An Associate’s degree can take around two years to complete, and while going to school it is possible to work in a law firm in order to earn credit as well as experience.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

It takes a certain kind of person to work as a Paralegal.

Someone who is strong and confident in their beliefs.

Others personal skills needed for this career include:

  • Great writing abilities
  • Communication skills
  • Research skills
  • Technology skills
  • Organization and flexibility
  • Teamwork
  • Ability to think ahead
  • Prioritization skills
  • Professionalism
  • Attention to detail

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How much does a Paralegal make?

On average in the United States, a Paralegal can make around $55,000 a year.

Although, there are some Paralegals who make around $80,000 a year.

Typically, those that make more work in places like Washington D.C.

When just starting out as a Paralegal, you can expect to make around $44,000.

Then with experience and certification, you can make much more.

Q. How long does it take to become a Paralegal?

It can take around two years to start working as a Paralegal.

This is because most attorneys and law offices require at least an Associate’s degree in order to work for them.

However, some companies are requiring a Bachelor’s degree, which can take around four years to complete.

Depending on where you work and what kind of education level you want to receive, it can take between two and four years to become a Paralegal.

Q. Is there a demand for Paralegals?

It seems that there is a high demand for Paralegals and that demand will keep rising within the next ten years.

Over the next decade, we can expect the demand for Paralegals to rise around 12%.

That is quite a lot more than several other careers in this field.

Paralegals are able to do a lot of work, and they help lawyers out in many ways.

They are a good commodity to have in any law office.

Q. How much does it cost to become a Paralegal?

The cost of your education to become a Paralegal can depend on a few different things.

If you go to a community college, you may pay around $10,000 to earn your Associate’s degree.

However, some universities cost more at around $15,000-$20,000.

The average Paralegal can spend around $15,000 on their education.

Q. What does a Paralegal do?

A Paralegal is an integral part of the criminal justice system.

These are the types of people who know how to get things done.

As a Paralegal, you’ll typically be helping attorneys with cases, viewing evidence, and other documents, and assisting with interviews, court cases and much more.

Paralegals do much of the same work as an attorney, however they are not allowed to represent clients in court.


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