Paralegals are individuals who aid attorneys or other legal professionals in conducting research and organizing facts and evidence in a case. While paralegals certainly perform administrative tasks for lawyers, paralegals can also perform other specialized tasks that are essential to progressing the legal process.
To become a paralegal, you must receive an education that helps you develop the skills needed to process, think critically, and research. You can do this by starting at a community college, four year college, or by fast-tracking your education at a career college. Experts at colleges such as Fremont College or have gathered together some great information on what it takes to become a paralegal.
What Type of Education Do I Need?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that paralegal programs are found at community colleges or 4-year colleges. The difference between the programs is that at community colleges, you will earn a two-year associate’s degree instead of a four-year degree, like at a four-year college.
No matter which degree program you choose, the purpose is to train you for paralegal work. Students will take classes on legal research methods, basic computer skills, legal database entry, and how to read and understand legal language.
In addition to getting a degree, certificate programs in paralegal work are also available. These are sometimes provided by community or 4-year colleges. Typically, thought, certification is geared toward students who already hold degrees in other subjects.
How Long Do I Attend School to become a Paralegal?
If you decide to go the academic route, an associate’s degree in paralegal work will typically last about two years or four semesters. If you decide to tackle a bachelor’s program in paralegal work, you will be in school for four years or eight semesters. One reason a bachelor’s degree program takes longer is because you also devote classes and time to general education requirements. For those who already possess a bachelor’s degree, some schools offer a master’s programs in paralegal work. This program is typically completed in about two years or four semesters, which is similar to an associate’s degree.
For certification, you can typically complete program in a few months or up to one semester. Most paralegal certificates are post-baccalaureate programs and intended for students who already have a bachelor’s degree or an associate degree. Luckily, for those interested in this field, this degree does not necessarily have to be in paralegal studies. Many successful paralegals have bachelor or associate degrees in areas like business, fine arts, or political science. The purpose of a post-baccalaureate certificate program is to help set you apart from your competitors. It is an extra level of professionalism and specialization, making you much more marketable.
Are There Other Requirements to Becoming a Paralegal?
Many law firms look for paralegal applicants who have some office experience after completing college. Many also want the successful candidate to possess an understanding or an education in a particular sub-field of law related to the practice.
What is the Difference Between Certificate, Certification, and Certified?
It is important to understand the distinction between a certificate and being certified or “having certification.” Schools do not offer certification, they offer certificates. By having a certificate or a degree, you can attain certification.
Certification requires taking qualification exams through state agencies or paralegal associations. You will also be required to meet any other educational or professional guidelines mandated by the certificate-granting association, state, or agency. A national professional association that offers a paralegal (or legal assistant) certification credential is the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), as an example.
How to Choose a Paralegal Program
Choosing a Paralegal Program that is right for you is important. You want to ensure that the program you choose will teach you the skills and knowledge you need to be a successful paralegal.
Here are some key points to consider when choosing the right paralegal program:
- Specialization –If you want to specialize in a particular area of the law, but sure to find a program that focuses on this specific area to ensure you gain the knowledge and skills you need for that specialization.
- Accelerated and Effective Programs – It is important to realize that the length of a paralegal program may or may not be the best indicator of excellence. A program’s quality really depends on content, instruction, and teaching format. Some colleges offer accelerated programs for students who want to get in and get out with their degree as quickly as possible. Despite the fact that accelerated programs take much less time to complete, you still gain the substance, skills and knowledge you need to be effective and get employed.
- Technology – With the rise of the Internet, many students are opting to forego a traditional campus setting and attend school online. Some paralegal programs offer online options to better fit your current life situation.
- Staff – While the content of a program is extremely important, the staff is too. You want to attend school where the staff is knowledgeable, good at what they do, and who are willing and able to help you along the way. You do not want to be educated by someone who does not understand law or has no experience in the field of law. He or she will not be able to guide you and answer your questions. Be sure to look for programs that have highly trained and accredited faculty.
- Tuition – Money talks. The cost of tuition should definitely play a factor in where you decide to go to school.
While this is not an exhaustive list of the considerations you should make when choosing a paralegal program, it is certainly a good starting point for creating and acceptable list.
If you are interested in becoming a paralegal, be sure to speak with the friendly staff at Fremont College. We offer an ABA-approved Paralegal Studies program which enables you to earn your associate degree in 15 months.