Do you find the field of law particularly fascinating but aren’t ready to commit the time and money necessary for law school? Are you looking for a career you can start with minimal training while still working in the field? If so, working as a paralegal might be a good fit for your goals. This guide will walk you through what a paralegal is and how you can get started as one.

What Is a Paralegal?

A paralegal is the right-hand support person for an attorney. They will handle various tasks to assist and support the lawyers they work for, often performing administrative tasks to free up the lawyer to handle more detailed aspects of the law. They are vital to the workings of a busy law office, and they need some basic legal knowledge to do their jobs well.

Paralegal Job Duties

A paralegal’s daily job duties will vary from one day to the next, depending on what the lawyer needs to have done for a particular case.
A paralegal will often work directly with clients. They may need to conduct interviews with clients or witnesses, and they will usually handle communication with clients. They collect and organize client documents and even draft correspondence to send on behalf of the attorney and are responsible for obtaining necessary signatures on legal documents.

For lawyers who take cases to trial, the paralegal works behind the scenes to provide assistance in many ways. They may be asked to write reports, gather evidence, and analyze data. They will handle paperwork during the court proceedings, prepare witnesses for taking the stand, and keep records of the proceedings. They often perform significant research to assist the attorneys who employ them.

While it may sound like the paralegal does much of the work, they cannot do anything considered “practicing law.” They are not allowed to:

  • Represent clients in court
  • Accept a case
  • Set fees
  • Provide legal advice

These tasks are the sole purview of the attorney. Failure to follow this rule can put your role as a paralegal at risk, so be very cautious about how you handle clients.

Job Environment

A benefit of working as a paralegal is that your job often changes. While many of the tasks you perform will take place at the legal office or business where you work, you may need to go into the community to gather evidence or interview people connected to a case. These professionals often find work in law firms, but companies and government organizations can also employ them. Some non-profits also employ paralegals to help draft documents and understand the law. This variety keeps the job interesting and engaging for many who choose this career path.

Skills Paralegals Need

So, what kind of skills would help you determine that a paralegal career is a good fit? First, you will need strong communication skills. Whether you are communicating with other legal support professionals, clients, or your attorney, you must know how to get your information across.

Second, you will need solid writing skills. Writing contracts and briefs is a common responsibility of the legal assistant or paralegal. Strong grammar skills and the ability to write legal terms are both essential.

Finally, paralegals need to be highly organized individuals. You will be performing research, preparing documents, and assisting your attorney with staying organized while managing multiple cases simultaneously.

Paralegal Career Outlook – Pay, Focus, and Job Growth Potential

If you have good attention to detail, strong communication skills, and an interest in law, consider becoming a paralegal. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is an excellent time to consider this career path. Between 2021 and 2031, the BLS expects a 14% increase in demand for skilled paralegals, which amounts to nearly 50,000 new paralegal jobs added during that decade. This is also a career field with a high pay rate for the education required. The median annual income for paralegals in May 2021 was $56,230. The top 10 percent of income earners earn over $88,000 a year.

Potential for Job Growth

In addition to fair pay and high demand, working as a paralegal can provide the substantial potential for job growth and advancement. One way you can do this is to choose a specialty. The specialty you choose is the area of law where you will focus your training and your eventual work. By becoming well-versed in the law in a specific niche, you can better serve the lawyers you work for. Some examples of specialty include: 

  • Estate planning law
  • Criminal defense
  • Family law
  • Employment law
  • Real estate law
  • Trademark law
  • Personal injury law
  • And more

In addition, many paralegals who add training to their resumes find opportunities for advancement. Managerial positions are common in large law firms; these positions look for someone with experience and additional training. You can also advance your career by moving from a small law firm to a larger one, which may open the door to higher pay rates.

What Schooling Do Paralegals Need?

One of the perks of choosing a paralegal career is that it only requires a certificate. You can gain the right skills and knowledge with a two-year associate degree. This means you can start your legal career with just a few years of school.

Common Paralegal Degrees

University of the Cumberlands has two degrees for paralegals, and both are great choices. The Associate of Arts in Paralegal Studies is an online degree that covers an introduction to the legal system, how to write for the legal system, and how to perform research within the legal system. There are also electives that allow students to specialize.

The Associate of Applied Science – Paralegal Studies is another option for those interested in a paralegal career. This degree opens the door to entry-level legal support roles, including that of a paralegal. This degree includes a basic Associate of Applied Science, then adds legal training as the elective courses.

A third option to pursue training as a paralegal is to obtain a paralegal certificate. This can be done in less than two years, but it has limitations. Should you decide to pursue additional education, such as a bachelor’s degree in a legal field, the credits from a certificate program will not transfer as easily as those from an associate degree. Thus, if you think you may want to pursue additional training at any point, you would be better served with an associate degree.

How Long Does Paralegal Training Take?

Whether you choose an associate degree or a certificate program, you can get the training to work as a paralegal in two years or less. Online programs with the flexibility to study at your own pace can help you fast-track your training.

Start Your Paralegal Training Today

University of the Cumberlands offers online options for those interested in working as a paralegal. Both the Associate of Applied Science – Paralegal Studies and the Associate of Arts in Paralegal Studies can provide the proper foundation for your career aspirations. These associate in paralegal studies degrees provide the necessary instruction for entry-level positions in legal support, including working as a paralegal, without jeopardizing your ability to return to school later if you wish. Reach out to University of the Cumberlands today to learn more about our flexible paralegal training programs, and see what it takes to learn more about how you can enroll and start an exciting career as a paralegal.