How Do You Become a Paralegal?

People with an interest in the legal field often consider becoming a Paralegal. However, it is not always clear how to get started in this field because there are multiple routes to get there. The three most popular routes are earning an Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in a different field and pairing that with a Paralegal Certificate, or acquiring a job as an entry-level Paralegal with a Bachelor’s Degree in another field and being trained on-the-job.

Becoming a Paralegal via an Associate’s Degree

An Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies is usually offered at a community college. Programs take a minimum of two years to complete and require a combination of specialized Paralegal courses such as legal computer applications and legal research, along with general academic courses. Most programs also have a required internship for graduation. This allows students to get hands-on, practical experience in the legal field. Through these internships, students have the opportunity to work at a public defender or attorney general’s office, a private law firm, a corporate legal department, a legal aid organization, or a government agency. The experience usually lasts for a few months and is the culminating activity of the program. Internships can lead to permanent positions after graduation because they have the potential to enhance the student’s technical skills and expose them to possible job prospects .

Becoming a Paralegal via a Bachelor’s Degree

Although they are not as widespread as Associate’s Degree programs in Paralegal Studies, there are a few schools that offer Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Paralegal Studies. However, most students choose to combine a Bachelor’s Degree in a different area of study with a Paralegal Certificate. Students who have already earned a Bachelor’s Degree can enroll in a Paralegal Certificate Program at a community college, traditional four-year college or university, or an online program. However, keep in mind that those seeking a Paralegal Certificate that will be recognized by the American Bar Association will need to complete some classroom coursework in combination with online coursework. Prospective students should choose their academic programs carefully to make sure that the requirements match their ultimate career goals.

Becoming a Paralegal via On-the-Job training

A Bachelor’s Degree can also provide the opportunity to get an entry-level Paralegal position with a law firm, legal organization, or government agency and then, learn the specific field-related skills on-the-job. In these types of cases, employers tend to favor Bachelor’s Degrees in fields that complement the legal field such as Criminal Justice, English (for research and writing skills), Tax Preparation (for firms that handle probate, estate, and will services), Nursing (in the case of a personal injury law firm), or Communications. It is important to note that for those seeking on-the-job training as a paralegal, work experience in a law firm or other office setting can increase one’s marketability.

As previously stated, there are multiple routes available to becoming a Paralegal. The decision usually depends on the amount of time an individual is willing to spend in school, the type of degree that one would like to pursue, and the long term career goals of the individual. A career in the Paralegal field requires specialized training, regardless of the route taken, so be sure to plan accordingly.

To learn more about getting your paralegal degree, please see this article on “Top 10 Online Paralegal Degree Programs“.