There are a lot of different paths you can take as a paralegal or legal assistant, and earning your degree in the field might not be as difficult as you might think. Some paralegals go on to become lawyers in their own right, but the position is secure enough for some to make it a lifelong career.
Ahead, we’ll take a look at some of the qualifications, requirements, and job options you have once you earn your paralegal degree. We’ll also touch on the future growth of the position to let you know whether or not entering the paralegal world is the right choice for you.
Becoming a paralegal does require some formal education, but you shouldn’t be intimidated with the prospect of getting your paralegal degree. You can usually get an associates degree in an applicable field like criminal justice, or find a paralegal degree program at a community college.
You can receive a four-year paralegal degree if you choose to, but it often is required. This will, of course, improve your chances of landing a job after completing the degree, however. You can get a Bachelor’s paralegal degree, or another form of a law degree to jumpstart your career from there.
Most schools have a paralegal or legal studies program that will offer you a degree or certificate. We recommend starting with schools that have an American Bar Association accreditation, though, since these will look the best on your first resume.
A paralegal degree will help you immensely if you’re interested in getting into the field, and a certification on top of that degree will give you an even better chance.
Apart from that, some general documentation and interpersonal skills will be required to complete the job successfully. You’ll likely be working in the role of an assistant, so attention to detail is paramount.
People are going to be relying on you in some way or another - whatever paralegal job you decide to take (more on these options ahead). You’ll need to make sure everything is correct, up to date, and fits the right format. If you’re a lawyer’s assistant, for instance, you’re going to need strong analytical skills to stay competent in that role.
Of course - as is the case with a lot of similar jobs - you’re going to need to stay on top of current filing, organization, documentation, and other technologies. You’ll be able to learn many of these skills on the job, but having a rough idea of what will be expected of you will give you a leg up on other applicants.
A lot of job descriptions for paralegals - and related professions - require their candidates to have some practical or office experience. They might accept you if you’ve worked in an office in another capacity, but often like to see paralegal-related duties on your resume.
You might be wondering, however, how to get this experience if no one will hire you without it. Well, most people turn to internships to fill the gaps. You will take what you learned in school or through your certification process and put it into practice.
There are likely several local law firms or other companies that need an intern. Apply for some of these internships, work for a few months, then rewrite your resume to include the experience and knowledge you’ve gathered.
There are several positions you can attain with a paralegal degree, and not all of them have to do with being a lawyer’s assistant. We’ll take a deeper look at some of the job choices you have in this section, so you know what to expect in your job search.
A legal assistant is one of the most common paths to take after receiving your paralegal degree. This is probably the job you’re thinking of when you think of what a paralegal does.
A legal assistant will help a lawyer prep for trial, schedule, and assist in other ways. In many states, you need to receive a certification to apply for jobs like these, though you might find a similar opportunity under another title.
A legal secretary is another job title that will probably pop up when searching for paralegal job openings. Despite this characterization, a legal assistant and a legal secretary have quite different responsibilities.
A traditional paralegal - or legal assistant - will help with preparing for trial. They’ll be researching, getting everything in order, and making sure the case is solid.
Legal secretaries, on the other hand, are much more like secretaries for other companies or individuals. These jobs focus on scheduling, answering phones, making copies, and general daily tasks that the lawyer and paralegal require.
A legal secretary usually doesn’t require any sort of education, and it’s often a fantastic stepping stone towards a career as a paralegal. You can learn the ins and outs of the business and find out if it’s something you really want to do. On top of that, you’ll be learning practical, on-the-job skills that will bolster your resume when you apply for paralegal jobs.
Paralegal for a Non-Government Organization
A non-government organization, or NGO, is usually a non-profit organization like a charity. There are both local and national NGOs, meaning the opportunity for employment within these parameters is virtually unlimited.
An NGO might be a perfect fit for you if you have a paralegal degree and a cause you’re passionate about. These organizations need lawyers and paralegals as well, and you’ll be able to advance your career while doing some good at the same time.
A good place to start might be with local organizations if you’re interested in making a career as an NGO paralegal. These positions might not pay as well as some others, but you’ll know you’re supporting a good cause through your work.
You can build experience here as well. NGO paralegal jobs usually aren’t as competitive since these jobs often don’t pay as well as the other paralegal jobs - especially at the local level.
The scope of the required knowledge will depend on whether your NGO is local, national, or international. You might need to know about state regulations, national regulations, and international trade agreements and stipulations down to the letter. This work is demanding, but it’s often rewarding in more ways than one.
A paralegal for hospitals, insurance providers, and medical companies is more of a niche area, but one where some will be able to flourish.
You'd be particularly qualified for such a position if you were a nurse before becoming a paralegal, for instance. Working within the medical field will give you a unique view of personal, practical, and legal perspectives of the business.
Healthcare is a large area, and they need lawyers and paralegals just like everyone else. This position is probably best for those with an interest in medicine - even if you don’t have a medical background.
Another sector that’s ripe for opportunity for talented paralegals is within the government. Local, state, and federal governments all need legal counsel and hire paralegals and lawyers regularly.
Of course, those who seek employment with the government will need to know their way around regulations. For that reason, a lot of people start at the local level and work their way up. Starting to work as a state or federal government paralegal can be a lot to learn if you’re new to the arena.
Of course, there is massive growth potential and opportunity when working for the government. This might be one of the safest places to work outside of a traditional legal assistant position.
Personal Injury Paralegal
You can specify in a lot of areas as a paralegal, and one of the common paths some people take is a personal injury paralegal. You’ll have to research health insurance claims, interview people, and keep detailed records of your conversations with clients.
Personal injury cases often go all the way to trial, so some experience preparing documents for trial will be necessary. A background in medicine will serve you here as well.
It’s a good time to earn your paralegal degree. The job outlook for the industry is positive, as witnessed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ growth outlook for the next ten years. They project that jobs for paralegals and legal assistants will grow by 15% by 2026, which is much faster than the average.
How much you’ll make will depend on your location, the type of work you do, and your experience level. The average salary for the position was just over $50,000 in 2017, but you can leverage your experience into higher paying jobs as your career progresses.
As you can see, there are a lot of different paths you can take as a paralegal. You can try to maximize your earning potential or take on a passion project with a non-profit. The industry is growing, and the demand for paralegals remains steady.
A career as a paralegal is a safe one, regardless of the specialty you select. Best of luck on earning your paralegal degree!