How Long Does it Take to Become a Paralegal?
A paralegal is actually a very broad profession. It’s competitive and exciting and has many different specific fields to choose from.
In this article we will be discussing what the paralegal profession is all about, as well as how long does it take to become a paralegal. So without further ado, let’s get started.
Understanding Paralegal as a Career Option
A paralegal’s job basically involves working under the supervision of an attorney and handling a wide range of research and administrative tasks that the attorney may not have the time for. The tasks may include drafting legal documents, maintaining files, managing documents from the courthouse and carrying out a lot of research work depending on the requirements of the project they are working on.
They also assist attorneys with many other types of tasks, including gathering and organizing facts and evidence, communicating and making the required arrangements with witnesses, as well as accompanying the attorneys to court.
As mentioned above, a person deciding to be a paralegal has more than a few specific fields to choose from. The field they end up pursuing will decide what exactly they will be doing their job.
For instance, a criminal paralegal will prepare the clients for the trial, interview witnesses, prepare legal documents relevant to the case and would also be required to have an extensive amount of knowledge about criminal law matters.
Similarly, a paralegal working in a corporate environment would find themselves taking care of the company’s legal transactions, formulating employee contracts, working on financial reports and managing benefit plans. Immigration paralegals, on the other hand, are usually employed by government organizations, though it’s not unusual for a private firm to hire them, too.
Their work would include managing foreign documents, researching immigration laws, helping immigrants with their citizenship or deportation issues as well as other immigration related matters.
Then we also have paralegals specialized in the field of labor laws, who are responsible for preparing and maintaining contracts between the employees and the company, handling legal disputes related to the company and legally representing the company or the employees.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Paralegal?
Now that we have had a good overview of a paralegal as a career, let’s find out how long it’s going to take to become one.
First things first, though, while you can become a paralegal in as less as just two years, the time period is going to vary quite a bit depending on which level of education you go for and the exact field of paralegal practice you choose. That said, your options include these three different paralegal degree programs.
An associate’s degree is the easiest and most common level of education you can get to earn the title of a paralegal. It’s a two-year program offered by community colleges, universities as well as through online educational programs.
You’re provided a basic level of paralegal education in this program and the skills and knowledge you gain can help you start your career as an entry-level paralegal or an assistant to someone in the legal industry.
This four-year program is one of the most important requirements for paralegals who want to join a major law firm, work in the corporate law department of a major company or a government organization’s legal department.
However, those who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in any other professional field would just need to get a paralegal certificate and wouldn’t have to enroll into any of the degree programs; getting the certificate typically takes several months, usually a year at the most.
As you could probably guess, a master’s degree in paralegal studies is the highest level of education you can get as a paralegal. It’s actually a bit difficult to say for sure how long it would take, but you can expect it to be anywhere between two to four years.
If you’re looking to get into a highly specialized field of paralegal work, such as intellectual property law as well as certain highly specialized legal jobs in a corporate environment, a master’s degree is probably your best bet.
How Much Money Do Paralegals Make?
If you’re looking to become a paralegal, it’s only natural that you would want to know how much you would be making working as one. But the first thing you need to understand here is that the salaries of paralegals vary greatly from one state to another.
Those working in the larger states tend to make considerably more than the ones working in smaller states. Here’s a list of the top 5 states offering the highest average salary (approximate) to paralegals.
- District of Columbia – $75,000
- Alaska – $65,000
- California – $61,000
- New Jersey – $57,500
- Washington – $56,500
Something you need to keep in mind here is that in some cities the pay is going to be higher than the others. Similarly, larger firms tend to offer a higher salary than the smaller, less established ones.
Coming to the national salary average of paralegals, it turns out to be somewhere around the $47,000 mark. However, the top 10 percent of jobs in the field of paralegals pay about $75,000 or more per year.
Should I Become a Paralegal?
Well, although we know you may be a bit confused and want someone to answer this question clearly – and we hate to disappoint as well – but unfortunately no one can answer it for sure except yourself. The thing is, paralegals, tend to do something very specific, and hence the most important factor may turn out to be whether they are really good at it as well as whether they are interested in making a career in that particular field.
And even if you’re not working in a very specific field, you’re likely still working in a highly specific field of legal and law areas. So perhaps the first thing you would want to do is ask yourself whether you enjoy working in that field. As the job involves great responsibility, you need to be absolutely sure that you will be able to give it your best.
Don’t Stop, Learn More!
Finally, if you’re looking to embrace the field of paralegals as your career, you would likely want to know more about it. And so we have come up with another highly detailed and very useful post on being and working as a paralegal that you can find right here. It doesn’t make sense to not take a few minutes of your time and learn something that can turn out to be so crucial in helping you make the right career decision.