Legal Assistants and Paralegals - The Future is Bright
One of most common ways to become a legal assistant or paralegal is through a
community college program that leads to an associate's degree. Another common
route; primarily for those who already have a college degree, is through a
program that leads to a certification in paralegal studies.
Many legal assistants and paralegals have associate degrees in paralegal studies
or a bachelor's degree paired with a certificate in paralegal studies. Currently,
a small number of schools offer bachelors' or masters' degrees in paralegal
A few employers train paralegals on the job, hiring college graduates
with no legal experience or promoting experienced legal secretaries. Others have
gained experience in a technical field useful to law firms, like tax preparation
for tax and estate planning, criminal justice, nursing or health administration
for personal injury practice.
With 250 plus paralegal programs approved by the American Bar Association (ABA)
and an estimated 1,000 colleges and universities, law schools and proprietary
schools offering formal paralegal training programs - the field is highly
represented. Although many programs don't require ABA approval, graduating from
an ABA-approved program can enhance one's employment opportunities - it's a
credibility thing for some employers.
Program admission requirements vary greatly - from a few college credits or
courses to a bachelor's degree for others, to high school graduates, those with
legal experience, passing a standardized test, to simply having a favorable
Many legal assistant and paralegal programs include two-year associate degree
programs, four-year bachelor degree programs and certificate programs that can
take as little as a few months to complete. Most certificate programs provide
intensive and specialized paralegal training for individuals who already hold
college degrees. On the other hand, associate and bachelor degree programs usually
combine paralegal training with courses in other academic subjects.
Obviously, the quality of paralegal training programs can vary with the higher
quality programs usually including job placement services.
Courses range from introducing students to the legal applications of computers,
including how to perform legal research on the Internet to more and more paralegal
training programs offering internships to assist students in gaining practical
experience by working for several months in the real world.
Internships could be with a private law firm, the office of a public defender or
attorney general, a bank, a corporate legal department, a legal aid organization
or a government agency. Clearly, the experience gained is an asset when one is
seeking a job after graduation and for many can lead to a job with the company
they interned with.
Most employers don't require certification but earning a voluntary certificate from
a professional society does have its advantages when it comes to finding a job. The
National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) has established standards for
certification that requires various combinations of education and experience.