A paralegal degree offers students the opportunity to find work at a law firm in the public, private, or government sectors. Just as there are within fields like medicine, there are a variety of specialties within law, and lawyers often specialize in a certain type of case like criminal law or real estate law. Likewise, the paralegals who work for those lawyers may also specialize in a certain area.
Why Choose a Specialty?
One of the main reasons a paralegal may choose a specialty is interest in a particular area of law. For example, some paralegals may have an interest in real estate and learn about real estate law. Other paralegals with an interest in business may decide to specialize in corporate law and may even move into positions within the management of a business after working as a legal assistant or with the company’s in-house legal team.
The specializations within law are numerous, and paralegals may find even more specialization by joining a specific “side.” A paralegal may have an interest in working with the government and might specialize in the duties required for working in a state or county prosecutor’s office.
Another reason a paralegal may specialize is because the law firm for which he or she works requires knowledge of a particular legal area. For example, a criminal defense lawyer may need paralegals with knowledge of criminal law.
Specializing While Enrolled in School
Depending on the school a paralegal attends, there may be options to specialize during the initial degree phase. If a program offers a student the chance to take electives, it’s best to choose electives that complement a particular area of law so as to enhance potential specialization. However, students who haven’t decided upon a specialization may want to vary their classes as much as possible to help determine whether a specialization is something worth looking into after graduation.
Students who have already graduated with a paralegal degree may choose to return to school to take some classes, or they may look at continuing professional education (CPE) classes. Taking additional classes in an area of law not only helps build a specialization, but these extra classes also look appealing on a resume to employers.
Becoming Certified as a Paralegal
A final option for gaining a specialization as a paralegal is through an official certification or certificate program. Certification is an activity that is valuable at any point in a paralegal’s career whether he or she has just entered the workforce or has many years of work experience. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers certification, as well as continuing education.
Depending on the state in which a paralegal lives, official certification in certain areas may also be available. For example, California and Texas offer certification programs approved by the state. Alternatively, a variety of colleges and universities also offer brief programs designed to offer certification for paralegals.
Specializing in an area of law allows a paralegal to command higher salaries for expert work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, students can obtain an associate’s degree and find work as paralegals. The legal field is a complex arena, and a paralegal degree, as well as experience in a particular area of law will help a graduate find steady work at a law firm.