If you are thinking about a career move into the justice sector, a paralegal job is an excellent place to start. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most paralegals earn a median annual salary of $52,920, and the growth forecast for this position over the next 10 years is much faster than the national average of other occupations.
While a paralegal’s main responsibility is to assist a lawyer in various forms of casework, this is not just limited to basic administrative functions. You’ll have an active role in conducting research, drafting and filing documents, interfacing with clients, and performing other tasks to help the attorney in litigation. So whether you choose to work for a private law firm or a public office, here are some things to keep in mind if you want to become a paralegal.
What Traits and Qualifications Do Attorneys Look for in a Paralegal?
“It’s important to demonstrate to each client that their specific case is being treated as a priority, which means the attorney and their staff must pay attention to details,” explains Nanda Davis, divorce attorney and owner of Davis Law Practice in Roanoke, Va. “Both the lawyer and paralegal team need to ensure the client looks professional in the community and in the courtroom.”
Davis believes there are two essential traits for a paralegal to possess in order to accomplish this.
The first qualification, according to Davis, is careful precision and accuracy. There’s no room for error in the spelling of names, birthdates, account numbers, dollar figures, contact information and other logistical data. A mistake of this nature is embarrassing at best and harmful to the case at worst. The second requirement is effective writing skills. A law firm must consistently deliver polished written documents such as court orders, letters, contracts, pleadings or motions. Therefore, a paralegal must have a strong command of punctuation, sentence structure, word usage and other grammar mechanics.
Since the work of a paralegal reflects on the attorney and practice as a whole, it cannot be overstated that success in this job hinges on attention to detail. If you are meticulous and conscientious in all areas of work performance, you can thrive as a paralegal. Once these aptitudes are in your skillset. Davis recommends visiting a courthouse to witness firsthand how the legal process works, then find an attorney who will let you shadow them at a court proceeding. That exposure will help you determine if a career in this field interests you. And for those who do become paralegals, it can be an extremely rewarding path.
“Clients will confide in you unbelievable facts about their lives, from funny and heartwarming to serious and painful. This makes the job feel meaningful, and the days are never dull. Paralegals also have an essential role to play in the overall functioning of law firms, and it can be so satisfying to help clients navigate a time of crisis,” Davis points out.
Which Steps Do You Need to Take in Order to Become a Paralegal?
Since paralegals are not licensed to actually practice litigation, you will not need to earn a law degree or a pass a state bar exam to land a paralegal job. However, you will need to become certified through specialized courses, either at the college level or an accredited certification program. You can choose either a two-year Associate’s or four-year Bachelor’s degree track. But make sure the program is American Bar Association-approved, which includes 18 semester hours of paralegal-specific coursework, according to job recruiting website Indeed.
Once you finish the educational requirements, here are the next steps:
- Earn an advanced paralegal certification through the National Association of Legal Professionals or the American Alliance of Paralegals.
- Apply for an internship at a law firm to gain real-world experience and help your resumé stand out to future employers as you start looking for jobs.
- Choose the area of law you want to focus on. Paralegals can work in various sectors such as business and corporate, real estate, contract administration, compliance, healthcare. Intellectual property and litigation (defense, employment, immigration, personal injury, medical malpractice, divorce and family, etc.).
Consider Making the Transition to a Paralegal Career in 2021.
All sorts of organizations have a need for paralegals—
from law firms to insurance companies to banks to major corporations to state or federal agencies. This in-demand profession just might be the career move you’re looking for. If you have the interest and qualifications to become a paralegal. Now is an ideal time to make this goal a reality.