Paralegal Schooling Options

Numerous schooling options for becoming a paralegal

Paralegals, also known as legal assistants, work under the supervision of lawyers and attorneys to research and complete tasks related to legal cases. Those who aspire to enter law but don't have the time, money or advanced skills to become an attorney may find a career in legal assistance fulfilling.

Once a paralegal completes a task, such as writing up a legal document, a lawyer must sign it and assume responsibility for it.

Paralegals work in all areas of law including criminal, real estate, government and estate planning. Legally they can do many of the same jobs as lawyers, except for a small but important few that include giving legal advice, appearing in court on behalf of a client and establishing an attorney-client relationship.

The fact that their services are far cheaper than lawyers is what makes the employment outlook for this career so promising.

How long will it take?

There are a number of different ways to become a paralegal. Graduates of career college or business school programs (which last several months to over a year) can earn a diploma or certificate. Associate's degrees, a popular ways for students to train as paralegals, take two years of full-time classes.

Some schools offer four-year bachelors or even master's degrees, where students choose to major or minor in paralegal studies. Those who have earned a degree in another field can easily get into the business by taking post-baccalaureate certificate programs, which typically run several months to a year.

Since training for this occupation is so diverse, graduates often obtain voluntary certifications to demonstrate their professionalism and skill level to potential employers.

Skills and requirements

The work paralegals do will depend on their level of education, experience, skills and certifications. In other words, some can do a wider range of work than others.

Many investigate cases, analyzing the facts and identifying laws, judicial decisions and legal articles that are relevant to it. They organize all information and prepare a written report for the lawyer in charge. They can also help prepare:

  • Legal arguments
  • Draft pleadings
  • Motions

Some paralegals assist lawyers in preparing for closings, hearings, trials and corporate meetings. They also assist during trials by organizing and keeping track of files or obtaining affidavits.

Paralegals must understand legal terminology, have excellent investigative and research skills and be well-versed in the laws surrounding their area of practice. They should be knowledgeable of substantive and procedural law and strictly follow ethical guidelines that have been set out by various professional organizations and States.

Tasks paralegals may perform

  • Legal research
  • Legal writing
  • Legal application of computers
  • Preparing exhibits
  • Case management

Specialization areas

  • Real estate
  • Estate planning/probate, wills, trusts
  • Family law
  • Business and corporate law and practice
  • Taxation
  • Bankruptcy
  • Contracts
  • Commercial law

The use of computers is becoming increasingly important for paralegals which is why many schools offer one or more courses on computer application in the field, including software use and conducting online research.