I Want to be a Paralegal ... Now What?
When you hear the word paralegal, you might picture an intelligent and dynamic work environment, witty banter, the occasional high-stakes case and maybe some snappy professional attire. This notion has likely stemmed from Hollywood’s portrayal of paralegals in movies and TV shows.
FACT: The median annual salary for paralegals in 2015 was $48,810.
Snap back to reality and you should start seeing the paralegal profession for what it truly is – a stable and rewarding career in the legal field. What’s more is the median annual salary for paralegals in 2015 was $48,810, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).1 It’s benefits like these that have you saying, “I want to be a paralegal!” The work environment and dress code are just icing on the cake.
Now it’s time to do some research – that’s where we come in. We laid out the basics to give you a broad overview so you can decide if you have what it takes to pursue this profession. Keep reading to find out if becoming a paralegal is the right career path for you.
What does a paralegal do?
Before we dive too deep, let’s take a look at the actual job duties of a paralegal. The main responsibility of these legal professionals is to assist lawyers by preparing legal documents, gathering facts or researching legal precedent. As a paralegal, you’ll be a lawyer’s right-hand man or woman, supporting them every step of the way towards winning a big trial.
Does this sound like something you’d be interested in? If your answer is yes, it’s time to take a closer look at the career itself.
What is the job outlook for paralegals?
Most law firms employ paralegals who keep their businesses running smoothly. Because of this, paralegal jobs are expected to increase at the steady rate of five to eight percent through 2024, according to the DOL. This is on par with the national average for all careers, meaning it is a rather stable career choice for aspiring legal professionals.
What skills do you need to become a paralegal?
Paralegals assist lawyers with a variety of tasks, which means a wide range of skills is needed to succeed in the position. We used real-time job analysis software from Burning-Glass.com to examine more than 50,000 paralegal jobs posted over the past year.2
Our analysis revealed the top 10 skills employers are seeking in paralegal candidates. Here’s what we found:
- Microsoft Excel
- Microsoft Office
- Microsoft Word
- Legal documentation
- Legal research
- Administrative support
- Case management
- Trial preparation
This is a field where your work will vary depending on the employer. This could also mean you already have some transferable skills you can leverage as a paralegal, such as managing other employees or organizing an office space. If you have an extensive assortment of skills and experience, a paralegal career might be right up your alley.
What education is needed to become a paralegal?
There’s a good chance you already have a few of those in-demand abilities in your arsenal. But don’t be discouraged if you’re still missing some. You can acquire all of these skills and more with a little training and hands-on experience.
Our job analysis revealed that 69 percent of employers preferred paralegal candidates have an associate degree or higher. The good news is that you can earn a paralegal degree and become qualified in as little as 18 months!3 That’s minimal compared to the seven or more years it would take to become a lawyer. 23 percent also preferred a paralegal certificate, which is another way you can stand out to potential employers.
What other requirements are necessary to become a paralegal?
Job requirements will vary from firm to firm. The DOL states that knowledge of standard office equipment – fax machines, scanners, photocopiers, etc. – is important. Familiarity with word processing software, legal databases and document management software is also an advantage. Other important requirements include knowledge of law and government, clerical experience and customer service abilities.
You now have a solid understanding of the fundamentals of this career. This knowledge should help you go from saying, “I want to be a paralegal” to saying, “I’m on my way to becoming a paralegal!”
If you agree with that statement, it’s time to take the next step! Learn some expert insight about what it's really like in the field in our article: What I Wish I Knew BEFORE Becoming a Paralegal.
- What Does a Paralegal Do? A Closer Look at this Law Career
- 6 Popular Paralegal Specialties That Could Help You Win the Case
- 7 Types of Paralegals to Consider Before Choosing a School
1Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 50,230 paralegal job postings, Nov. 1, 2015 – Oct. 31, 2016)
3Time to complete is dependent on accepted transfer credits and courses completed each quarter.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in July 2015. It has since been updated to reflect information relevant to 2016.