Fast Growing and Well Paying: The Benefits of Being a Paralegal
With just two years of formal training, sometimes even less, you can be ready to compete successfully for a job as a paralegal.
With job opportunities expected to grow by 22 percent through 2016, and with an annual median salary of over $40,000, it's no wonder so many people want to become a paralegal. So what can you do to get your foot through the door and into this fast growing field?
What Does a Paralegal Do?
Paralegals are also called "legal assistants" for good reason--they assist lawyers. Although they can't argue a case in court or perform other tasks classified as "practicing law," they can do just about everything else a lawyer does.
Lawyers may often delegate the prep work to paralegals for trials, hearings, and corporate meetings. Paralegals also typically do research into laws, articles, government regulations, and court decisions. Finally, they also traditionally complete paperwork including writing motions, legal arguments, affidavits, and contracts of all sorts.
How Do You Become a Paralegal?
Becoming a paralegal usually does not require a great deal of formal training, nowhere near the length or amount of training to become a lawyer. Most have an associate's degree from a paralegal program at a community college. Others may earn a bachelor's degree, but also acquire a certificate in paralegal studies.
The American Bar Association (ABA) has approved roughly 260 paralegal programs around the country. It can help your job prospects, especially for the more highly coveted (usually higher-paying) positions, to attend an ABA-approved school. But among those 260, entry requirements and program quality vary greatly, so do your own research to make sure you're getting exactly what you want.
Consider whether the school or program helps you find a job upon completion. Does it offer internship opportunities? Internships can be an excellent way to secure connections and get practical experience.
Job Prospects and Salaries
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, even with the predicted job growth competition for those jobs should remain tough. Those with formal training should likely have the best opportunities.
While seventy percent of paralegals work for private law firms, many paralegals can find employment opportunities throughout the different levels of government. The states with the highest concentration of paralegals, in order:
• District of Columbia
• New York
• West Virginia
The states that pay the best, however, differ slightly:
• District of Columbia
• New York
In 2007, the median annual salary for paralegals was $44,990. Paralegals working for the federal government in 2007 earned an average annual salary of $46,912. Within the federal government, the Department of Justice employs the most paralegals, followed by the Social Security Administration, and the Department of the Treasury.
From nice salary possibilities to benefits packages, from numerous employment opportunities to different legal fields, becoming a paralegal can result in a rewarding, yet challenging career.
American Bar Association
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Government (Excluding the Postal Service)
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics: Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Paralegals and Legal Assistants