A paralegal is a person who is trained in all legal matters and works beside an attorney to conduct important legal work. A paralegal is often responsible for a bulk of the research involved in each case and will spend their days interviewing clients and witnesses, understanding and reviewing all the facts and drafting depositions, meeting notes, briefs and more. While a paralegal does not have a law degree, there are many steps they must take to becoming a qualified candidate.
To become a paralegal, you do not need a background in law. In fact, many paralegals come from a variety of different backgrounds, including communication, political science and even journalism. But, if you choose to pursue a career as a paralegal, you will need to complete at least 18 hours of paralegal-specific courses. This can be done at a college or university that offers a paralegal program or at a two-year college or community college. If you have already graduated or do not plan to attend college, there are also programs that offer paralegal programs. Before you begin one of these programs, ensure that it is approved by the American Bar Association. Many law firms will also recognize similar coursework or degrees, so do your research before you begin applying. Many people who are current students who are studying for a law degree also take jobs as paralegals to gain valuable knowledge.
Be Sure You Have the Right Skills
Some paralegals will enter a law firm with little knowledge of the law, but as the paralegal business continues to grow, big law firms are now looking for candidates who already have a strong legal background. If you are looking to become a paralegal, you should be skilled in the American legal system, legal research, ethics and legal investigation. In addition to the legal skills, paralegals need to also have the following:
- Research skills
- Communication and writing skills
- Organizational skills
- Computing and digital expertise
- Critical thinking and problem solving skills
A law office runs differently than any other office, so it’s always good for a paralegal candidate to understand how a legal office works before applying for a legal position. If possible, try to work as an office manager or assistant at a law firm before becoming a paralegal. This will give you the experience you need to work at a higher position in a law firm and will have you feeling more comfortable in that specific office setting. If you are still in school or able to take the time, consider finding an internship that allows you to shadow a paralegal or lawyer. Not only will this give you insight into law as a whole, but it may also help you understand what type of law you’d like to specialize in.
Paralegals are widely needed at law firms across the country. Whether you want to get involved with real estate and business law or have an attraction to family and divorce law, it’s likely that your expertise will be wanted at many law firms in your area. You may also want to widen your reach outside of local law firms and into government agencies and large corporations, who also employ paralegals on their staff. For help finding a law firm or company that fits your skills and qualifications, consider reaching out to a recruitment expert for help. The recruiters at The Goodkind Group have placed tons of paralegals into law firms that they have flourished at and grown with and we are ready to help you too. For more information about finding your next legal job, contact us at 212-378-0700 or visit our website for more information.