How To Become A Paralegal & How Long Does It Take?

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A woman studying to become a paralegal.

A woman studying for her degree.

On your research towards how to become a paralegal you will soon discover that there are many different way to achieve it. Currently there are an estimated 600 paralegal education programs being offered in the US with varying formats and lengths. Many of these programs are quite thorough and take longer than others.

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Both public and private institutions offer proper education for this line work. This includes community colleges, four year colleges and universities, business colleges and proprietary institutions. Because there is such a variety of programs this makes it possible for anyone from any background able to enter into this profession. The following are the most common programs that are being offered.

How Long Does it Take to Become Certified?

The first are associate paralegal degree programs. Two-year community colleges and a few four-year schools and business schools offer this program. After completing 60-70 semester units, students that are successful obtain their associates degree. Typically they will need to complete ½ of their paralegal courses and the other half will need to be in general education and other related topics. When first choosing the program it is important that the student considers whether or not they will want to continue on in their education and obtain a four year degree.

There are also bachelor degree programs available in four year colleges and universities that offer paralegal studies as a major, minor, or even as a concentration that is within a major. The range for semester units for a bachelor degree is 120 – 130 which includes the 30-60 needed in paralegal and related courses.There are certificates programs that are available from 18-60 semester units. There are longer programs in which you can gain a certificate, in case you are wondering how long does it take to become a paralegal. Much like an associate’s degree you would need to complete general education and paralegal courses.

Lastly, there are master’s degree programs. A few of the colleges and universities that offer undergraduate degree programs are starting to offer advanced degrees in paralegal studies. When choosing an educational program there are several things that you will want to look at. First you will need to see what is the reputation of the school and the paralegal program that they offer.

You can also research online and also check with members of the community that you know who are already working in this profession. In fact, they will be your best resource as they have already went through the processing and know more or less what it takes to become one.

How Long is Paralegal School?

Also, ask the school what services are offered to the students. These can be things like orientation, tutoring and academic counseling. Also ask them what facilities are available such as a legal research library and computer laboratories.You will also need to inquire about the nature of the curriculum. The curriculum should include things like research, writing, litigation, ethics and contracts to name a few. You should also ask what the graduation requirements are and exactly how long is paralegal school.

By asking these things you can get a feel if the program being offered by the school you are considering is one that will meet your needs and be one that you can work with and has the tools you will need in order to successfully complete the paralegal certification online or otherwise.

Benefits of Having a Degree

Having a paralegal degree, how long it took to get it is irrelevant, does have several advantages that will help you in your career.

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  • Compensation – the compensation that law clerks receive has gone up over the past decade. Because legal assistants are responsible for carrying out important and complex tasks (just take a look at the California Code), this has allowed their compensation to rise. They may also make bonuses and work overtime.
  • There are more jobs open in the market because many of the hourly rates that attorney’s charge have doubled, paralegals are able to be hired for a lower rate and are able to carry out many of the same tasks. This also allows for efficient delivery when ti comes to legal services.
  • A degree to become a legal assistant can take only a few months of studying and a certificate or degree to become a legal clerk can be obtained through many online programs & traditional courses. However, those that have completed their bachelor’s degree for any field and have their paralegal certificate tend to have the most opportunities for employment.
  • When you become a paralegal, just know that you will be challenged intellectually. This type of work can also involve many high-level skills and some of the most successful legal clerks are innovative thinkers and problem-solvers. It is also required that they become subject matter experts in whatever their area of specialty is. They also have to stay on top of laws that are ever-changing.
  • Even though they are referred to as a lawyer assistants, paralegals actually are able to obtain management roles in corporations and take on more of entrepreneurial roles as well. They have now become respected members of legal teams everywhere.
  • As a legal clerk, you will have many chances to help others. Of course, how you are able to help others will depend upon the practice area. No matter your practice area though, you will be able to help others in a rewarding way.
  • You will also get to have contact with clients. Helping clients with their troubles can also serve to be very rewarding if client interaction is what you are interested in. They also serve as a client’s point of contact during a case.

Becoming A Paralegal: Better Salary & Online Certification

Even though law firms are typically the largest employers when it comes to shar number of hired legal help, you shouldn’t pigeon hole yourself when becoming a paralegal. There are many other large types of corporations that are hiring them as well in order to vamp their in-house legal departments while saving themselves some money not outsourcing to legal firms. This prevents the need for them to have to seek outside legal counsel unless absolutely necessary.

Many companies are choosing to have an in-house legal department these days in order to cut costs and be more economical, but more importantly, to keep sensitive and confidential information relating to the company under a tight watch. This will help in minimizing any chance of leaking sensitive documents that might aid the competition or hurt the reputation of the company.

Demand for legal workers in a finance, insurance and healthcare providers is also expected to increase over time, and with it the yearly salary a paralegal makes will also increase substantially.

Depending on the law firm, your workload may be just as high as when legal work is slow. The logic behind this is that lawyers are able to retain their billable assignments while delegating their tasks to their paralegals, and concentration more on marketing and advertising to get more clients.

This is can be viewed in a positive light since not only will your productivity increase, but you become more indispensable for the firm, and have a better chance of requesting a raise. The downside, however, is that there will be a hiring freeze as they will be more likely to keep their current paralegals than hire more until the demand volume has increased enough to make it necessary to once again add additional staff.

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Keep in mind that how to become a paralegal is not as important as what you do with it. I know many that are still stuck in their day job after they have already obtained their degree. They just never made the leap to using it. Make sure that doesn’t happen to you and take as much time looking for a job as much as it took you to get certified in this profession.