If you want to work in the legal arena without a law degree, a paralegal program might be right for you. A quality paralegal program will teach you how to conduct research, maintain computer databases of information, write document summaries and prepare contracts. You can gain this knowledge by earning a certificate, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree either online or at a college campus.
A certificate program might be the best route to take if you already have a bachelor’s degree. If you have no degree, a high school education or its equivalent usually is required for admission into an associate's degree or bachelor's degree paralegal program. In some cases, testing also is required.
Paralegals work under the supervision of an attorney to provide legal support work for law offices, government agencies and corporations. The best paralegal program will include courses that prepare you to conduct legal research and prepare legal documents. Course offerings also should include law office technology, civil litigation, family law, criminal law and procedures, corporate law, intellectual property law, labor and employment law, estate planning and probate law, ethics in the legal profession, legal writing and bankruptcy.
Internship opportunities also are desirable. An internship can help you gain valuable work experience with a law firm, in a corporate setting, in a legal aid office or with a government agency, for example. Sometimes, an internship can even lead to a job offer.
A quality paralegal program also will offer some job placement services. When inquiring about any program, be sure to ask about how many students secure jobs after graduation. High graduation and job placement rates usually are indicators of a high-quality program.
Any type of program that is accredited or sanctioned by a professional law association can help ensure that you get the best education and can boost your opportunities for employment. Also, be aware that certificate paralegal programs can vary significantly in the topics that are covered and the time it takes to complete the degree. If you are considering a certificate program, be sure to ask about all of these factors.
Even after you earn a certificate or degree, training often is ongoing for paralegals. Part of your job involves keeping up to date on any new laws or developments that affect your work. Ongoing education can be completed via seminars or another continuing-education paralegal program.
There are other paths to becoming a paralegal in addition to earning a degree or taking courses. Some companies promote legal secretaries into paralegal positions. Other companies offer on-the-job training, especially if you have strong writing and researching skills or experience in an area relevant to a particular law firm. For example, a medical background can be useful for attorneys who specialize in personal injury law.