Lawyers have a complex role of keeping everything in order. They take the sole responsibility of performing legal services, but because of the varied tasks they do working on legal matters, they look for someone to help them with the burden. This is what legal assistants do.
How to become a legal assistant
Another way to enter the field of law without taking a long period of study in law schools is to become a legal assistant. Legal assistants, also known as paralegals, are professionals that perform various tasks that are similar to what lawyers do, except for the legal duties that are within the scope of law practice.
If you’re interested to become a legal assistant, follow on these steps in order to start your journey towards your chosen career.
1 Look for schools that offer paralegal programs
- Search online for schools that offer paralegal degrees. Make sure that the program is approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). Though some schools offer several programs that are not approved by the ABA but offer placement jobs at the end of the course, taking an ABA-approved program is much respectable for potential employers.
- You may also consider looking for programs that offer job placement services for their graduates. This will allow you to have a job after you graduate.
- Some colleges offer programs that include internship as part of the curriculum. You may consider taking these programs as this will help you get hands-on experience even before you graduate.
- Once you have chosen a program, make sure that you meet the admission prerequisites. The enrollment requirements for schools that offer paralegal programs vary from one another. Some may require applicants to have at least a college degree while some will accept a high school graduate or those who already have legal experiences.
2 Obtain a degree in paralegal studies
Gaining formal education is a vital requirement when aspiring to become a legal assistant. There is no specific educational path one must complete in order to enter the field but there are several options you may consider in order to gain education.
- The most common educational path is to obtain an associate degree in paralegal studies. Though some colleges and universities offer a bachelor’s, even a master’s degree in paralegal studies, it will depend on you to choose whether to spend 2 or 4 years in school.
- Obtaining a bachelors’ degree will create a significant credential that will provide much better opportunities once you start looking for potential employers.
3 Choose a specialization
There are several areas in the law industry where you would want to specialize. Here are the most common areas of paralegal practice which you may choose to specialize according to your preference.
- Litigation paralegal
- Estate Planning and Probate paralegal
- Corporate paralegal
- Employment and Labor paralegal
- Real Estate paralegal
- Government paralegal
- Criminal paralegal
4 Gain relevant work experience
Once you have earned your degree, gain legal experience so that you can add to your credentials once you apply for a full-time job.
- If you prefer to obtain a four-year degree, part of the program will allow you to do internships and work with a private legal firm, legal department, banks, government agencies and much more. This will also help you to be attractive to employers.
- You may also work as a research assistant while in college. Approach students and professors in your school that need help from an knowledgeable individual in performing researches.
- You can also apply as a trainee in law firms where you get the chance to work with lawyers and learn latest updates in research and development in the field of law.
5 Consider getting certified as a legal assistant
After obtaining a degree and gaining legal experience, consider getting certified. Though certification is voluntary, being certified as a paralegal will definitely open more doors for you in the industry and allow you to further in your career as a legal assistant.
- The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) is an organization that offers certification for legal assistants.
- You must pass a 2-day exam in order to be granted with the Certified Paralegal (CP) or Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) designation. Cost is $250 for NALA members and $275 for non-members.
- Another certification offered by the NALA is the Advanced Paralegal Certification (APC) which is an online curriculum-based program that is intended for paralegals with years of experience that wants to specialize in an area of paralegal practice.
- The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI) is another body that provides certification such as the American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) credential. The AACP is an advanced certification that will require at least 5 years of experience.
- The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) also offers a Registered Paralegal (RP) designation for those who have a bachelor’s degree and at least 2 years of paralegal practice. Exam cost is $215 by credit card alone through their application website.
6 Obtain continuing education to maintain your certification
Once you consider obtaining certifications, you must consider obtaining continuing education (CE) as well, in order to maintain your certification.
- A Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) designation must be renewed every 5 years and complete at least 50 hours of continuing education.
- Recertification as an American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) must be done every 2 years with at least 18 hours of CE.
- Certification renewal for Registered Paralegal (RP) is done every 2 years with a minimum of 12 hours in CE.
Once you find a job as a paralegal, obtaining certifications and further education will help you advance in your career. Working in the law industry is a rewarding job but will require you to be well-educated in legal matters and be able to work even under pressure. Learning how to become a legal assistant is the best way to get your foot in the door if you are interested in a career involving the law.
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