How to Become a Paralegal

Students_blackwhite.jpgThough the job of a paralegal requires a high degree of expertise, the training required is relatively short, concentrating mainly on practical skills and the most pertinent background knowledge. Unlike lawyers, whose job may require a precise level of knowledge upon entering the profession, paralegals typically have the luxury of learning on the job, where they quickly pick up the more minute aspects of law practice.

The three most popular paths to becoming a paralegal are as follows:

  • An associate’s degree in paralegal studies (up to 24 months)
  • A certificate in paralegal studies, for students with a degree in another field (up to 12 months)
  • A bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies (up to 48 months)

All three paths are typically taken at a career or junior college or a specialized academy, with further training done on the job. (See more information on the different paralegal degrees)

Paralegal Curriculum

Common subjects covered in a paralegal training curriculum may include:

  • Torts & contracts
  • Ethics
  • Civil litigation
  • Finance
  • Marketing
  • Criminal law
  • Dispute resolution
  • Legal research
  • The legal applications of computers
  • Legal writing
  • Legal terminology
  • Litigation assistantship
  • Law office administration

Many paralegal training programs also offer internships, where students gain experience working in a law firm, corporate legal department, government agency or other organization. Some programs also have specialized courses to prepare students for certification exams, and some schools offer job placement services.

See a list of recommended paralegal training programs for more specific course information. You can also get specific course information from paralegal schools in your area to see what programs are available near you.

Paralegal certification

Besides formal training, paralegals often seek voluntary certification from any of the four major certifying agencies, in order to make themselves more employable. These agencies offer a variety of designations that signify different levels of experience. Here you can find more information on paralegal certification.