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How do I Become a Paralegal?

Article Details
  • Written By: Margo Upson
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2017
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2017
    Conjecture Corporation
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A paralegal is someone who assists a lawyer with delivering legal services. Paralegals cannot offer legal advice, but they are an essential part of a lawyer’s practice. Paralegals are also known as legal secretaries, and are responsible for a lot of the day-to-day duties that allow a law firm to function smoothly.

Paralegals can do almost anything around a law firm except set fees, give legal advice, accept a case, or represent a client in court. This leaves a lot that a paralegal can do, and there are many skills a person must have to become a paralegal. A paralegal must have a very firm grasp of laws and how the legal system works. He or she must be able to perform research and write reports, draft legal documents, write summaries, and type up correspondence. Paralegals must also know how to find and properly interview witnesses.

To learn all of these skills, a paralegal first must receive a degree or certificate from an accredited college. Schools that have been recognized by the American Bar Association usually offer the best programs. Some programs offer certificates upon completion, which may be enough to get you hired on at a small private practice. The majority of larger firms, however, require at least an Associate’s degree. Most paralegals get their four-year Bachelor’s degree, making it easier for them to get a job at one of the better practices. Getting a great education is imperative when you want to become a paralegal. The courses you take in college help to prepare you for the demands of the career.

While attending classes to become a paralegal, it is essential to also work on improving your typing skills. Being able to type quickly and accurately is important. For you to become a paralegal, it is also vital to become knowledgeable about research techniques. Being able to confidently find the materials you need in a library, records office, or on the internet will make you an invaluable member of a law practice.

After completing your education, the next thing you might do to become a paralegal is to obtain certification through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). Becoming a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) through them, by passing an exam, is the best way to start a career as a paralegal. Although being certified by NALA is not required, it can help an applicant stand out when applying for a coveted position in a major law firm.

Paralegals have many options when deciding which type of law firm to work for. They can either work for public or private practices. They can choose to work in family law, criminal law, bankruptcy, civil, or any of other dozens of types of law practices. Submit a resume to law firms you would like to work for, and follow up with a phone call. Some websites are available to help connect lawyers with paralegals looking for work.

After getting a position as a paralegal, it is important to stay current by continuing to learn as much as possible, both about law and the job of a paralegal. Keep up to date by joining legal assistant organizations, and subscribing to publications. Putting the extra effort into your career will make you an asset to your employers, which almost always pays off.

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