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What Degree Do You Need to Be a Paralegal?

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Becoming a paralegal is a great career path for those who are highly detail-oriented and interested in the law. Paralegals are critical team members in any law office. They conduct research to help lawyers prepare their cases, and they draft reports and other formal statements. The day-to-day responsibilities of a paralegal may vary depending on the size of the office and the area of law, but their overall role is to support attorneys as they prepare for trials, hearings, meetings, or other events.

Job growth for paralegals looks favorable, too. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for paralegals is expected to grow by 12 percent in the next year, which is faster than average.

The path to becoming a paralegal is not as clear as it is for some other professions, though. Paralegals aren’t regulated at a federal level, and very few states have specific requirements that paralegals must meet to be employed. The qualifications for paralegals are set by employers, and some look for more rigorous education than others. Fortunately, this means that you have many options for which degree you can get to become a paralegal.

Becoming a Paralegal With an Associate’s Degree

While some law firms prefer for their paralegals to have a bachelor’s degree, many employers will hire paralegals who have an associate’s degree. An associate’s degree can be a great option for aspiring paralegals because it is more affordable than attending a four-year college and allows you to enter the field earlier.

Many community colleges offer associate’s degrees in paralegal studies or legal studies. These programs involve classes that are specific to the skills and knowledge a paralegal should possess, such as writing, research, and ethics. Most employers prefer to see an associate’s degree from a school approved by the American Bar Association, or ABA. You can find a directory of paralegal programs approved by the ABA on their website.

Becoming a Paralegal With a Bachelor’s Degree

The top law firms in any area may look for candidates with a bachelor’s degree when hiring paralegals. Your options should not be severely limited if you complete an associate’s degree instead, but a bachelor’s degree may open up some other opportunities or allow you to earn a higher salary.

Few colleges or universities offer four-year degrees in paralegal studies. Those who choose to earn a bachelor’s degree may have to select a related field of study for their degree and then complete an additional certificate program. However, some law firms hire individuals with only a bachelor’s degree and then offer on-the-job training to equip them to fulfill a paralegal’s responsibilities.

If you decide to pursue a career as a paralegal with a bachelor’s degree, you have a number of options for relevant fields of study. Many paralegals receive bachelor’s degrees in English, history, sociology, or business.

Becoming a Paralegal With a Post-baccalaureate Certificate

A certificate in paralegal studies can make you a more competitive candidate and a more educated employee. Paralegals often complete a post-baccalaureate certificate to learn the specific skills of the job after they finish their bachelor’s degree. Most certification programs take one year to complete, but they are only available to students who have finished a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school.

Licenses and Certifications

Paralegals aren’t required by law to earn a license or pass a certification exam, but some employers prefer candidates who have these qualifications. There are several national and state paralegal organizations that offer licensing or certification exams. By passing one of these tests and earning a license, you prove that you have the knowledge needed to excel as a paralegal.

Important Skills for Paralegals

Paralegals often work in high-stress environments. This is especially true if you work for a litigator or a trial lawyer as time is of the essence when preparing for a case. If you thrive under pressure and enjoy a fast-paced working environment, becoming a paralegal could be a great career choice.

Attention to detail is another important quality for paralegals. The legal field is very precise and highly technical, so paralegals need to pore over every document to make sure everything is perfect. Paralegals should be very organized, too, as they may have to juggle documents for multiple cases at once.

Research and writing are two of the main components of a paralegal’s job, so you should be comfortable with these tasks if you want to be a paralegal. You may have to interview clients, research past cases, or conduct other investigations to prepare for a case, and you have to communicate your findings as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Working as a paralegal is an excellent career path. You can enter the field with a two-year degree, and you can make a comfortable salary with room for growth as you gain experience. Your educational options are broad since there are no specific requirements for paralegals, so you could choose to earn an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree. What’s most important is that you opt for a field of study that provides you with the skills and knowledge you need to feel at home in the legal world.

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Find Your Degree

Find Your Degree