How To Become A Paralegal or Legal Assistant

If you’ve ever had an issue that required the expertise of an attorney, most likely, you’ve also dealt with a Paralegal or Legal Assistant in the process. As they are tasked with assisting the lawyer, they are a crucial part of the legal team and keep things running smoothly in the office.

Check out how you can become a Paralegal or Legal Assistant with minimum educational requirements! 

Related Article: 40 Highest Paying Jobs With A Trade School Education

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As a Paralegal or Legal Assistant, you will be tasked with the following: 

  • Conduct legal research
  • Gather and verify facts, researching as needed
  • Keep detailed records, file and organize them
  • Draft legal documents, such as contracts, mortgages, and other office correspondence
  • Help attorneys prepare for trial
  • Assist lawyers during trials
  • File briefs and submit evidence to opposing counsel
  • Schedule meetings, interviews, depositions
  • Answer telephone calls
  • Use applicable computer software 
  • And, much more!

While both positions are focused on law, a Paralegal will focus on litigation work, thus requiring them to have a deeper understanding of the law. A Legal Assistant is primarily tasked with administrative duties. 

The most popular pathway to becoming a Paralegal is to obtain an Associate of Paralegal Studies degree. However, potential employers may require a bachelor’s degree. On the other hand, some may only require a certificate program approved by the American Bar Association.

To become a Legal Assistant, you may not be required to have a college degree, although a certificate program may be necessary to gain the skills needed in this field. 

In addition, on-the-job training is a must! 

Coursework will include classes in:

  • General Paralegal Administrative Skills
  • Corporate Law
  • International Law
  • Investigation Skills
  • Writing Skills
  • Civil Litigation
  • Legal Research
  • Legal Ethics
  • Conducting Interviews

You may also be exposed to the following specializations:

  • Probate Law
  • Family Law 
  • Wills and Estate Law
  • Bankruptcy Law
  • Property Law
  • Personal Injury Law
  • Real Estate Law
  • And, much more!

Becoming a Legal Assistant first before pursuing a career as a Paralegal is a great way to receive valuable training to see if entering a Paralegal degree or certificate program is for you. 

However, if you are certain of your end goal… to become a Paralegal… being a Legal Assistant first is not a requirement. But… putting in the work to earn post-secondary education will be! 

Depending on your employer, completing a paralegal certification program may be required to get started, as well as continued education opportunities to stay on top of things.

Besides the obvious of understanding of legal terminology, the following skills will be helpful as well:

  • Oral & written communication skills
  • Computer skills
  • Detail-oriented
  • Flexibility
  • Research skills
  • Multi-tasker
  • Team player
  • Organizational skills
  • Time management skills

In addition, tact and empathy should be used when people come to you for help with their problems. A sympathetic heart that is prepared to help others in their hour of need truly is a must! 

As a Paralegal or Legal Assistant, the BLS reported average earnings of approximately $52,920 per year, as of May 2020. The highest 10% earned upwards of $85,160 annually.

According to the BLS, this particular field in law is projected to grow by 12% between 2020 and 2030. Over the next ten years, 43,000 openings for Paralegals and Legal Assistants will become available each year.

The future holds an interesting trend for up-and-coming Paralegals and Legal Assistants. Some law firms are combining the duties of the two positions to cut costs, and larger corporations are hiring in-house Paralegals to handle their legal issues, reducing the need for high-priced lawyer fees. In addition, a Paralegal’s services cost less for the client in general. 

Can a Paralegal become a Lawyer?

Of course, you can! What better way to learn the legal system from the ground up, right? If you enjoy your job as a Paralegal, the next logical step is to open your own law practice if you’d like.

What’s next for you? You will need to earn a bachelor’s degree, pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), and then on to law school, pass the Bar exam, and get your license to practice.