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Six Steps You Need to Climb to Become a Paralegal

published February 18, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left

( 15 votes, average: 4.2 out of 5)

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Paralegals do the most grunt work in a law office-such as research, writing, and interviewing clients and witnesses. The paralegal profession is growing faster than other professions because it is an exciting and important occupation, and you can prepare for it with a reasonable and manageable commitment of resources.

Six Steps You Need to Climb to Become a Paralegal

The first thing to know is that a paralegal and a legal assistant are exactly the same thing. Sometimes, situations such as local court rules that allow a "legal assistant" to sit at the counsel table in a courtroom determine which term is used. "Paralegal" seems to be growing in popularity and is the term generally used in this book.

But what is a paralegal? Basically, as mentioned above, paralegals do a lot of the same things lawyers do, except presenting arguments to a court and giving legal advice.

If the law interests you, but you don't particularly care if you get to argue in court, and you enjoy attending to detailed work, you might prefer being a paralegal to being an attorney. It certainly doesn't usually take as long to get your training.

So, how should you go about getting paralegal training? There are hundreds of different paralegal training programs in the U.S., representing a variety of perspectives of the profession. You'll find out how to distill all this information to find the right program for you.

Here's a preview of some of the things you'll see and do along the way:

Step 1: Investigate What Paralegals Do

Paralegals work under the direct supervision of an attorney. One way of looking at the role of the paralegal is that paralegals do the legal background work. This means paralegals do a lot of research, both "book research," in a library or on an online service, and client and witness interviews. A good lawyer knows that preparation is the key to success, and many lawyers rely on paralegals to perform a lot of that preparation. Paralegals also keep track of client files, making sure they are complete and that things are done on time. They often write the first draft of a memo or brief; in many instances, paralegals send out correspondence under their own names.

Some paralegals, who work for solo practitioners or in small offices, are generalists, who may perform their duties under the rubric of criminal law one day, real estate law another, and torts the next day. On the other hand, paralegals who work for the government or in very large law firms specialize in particular areas of the law. Paralegals who work in the legal department of a corporation specialize in the area of the law appropriate to the company, for example, insurance Introduction law, and also in employment and corporation law. See chapter one for more discussion of the duties and specializations of paralegals.

Step 2: Decide on Your Training

At a minimum, you will need a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) Diploma in order to attend a paralegal program; in some cases, you'll need a bachelor's degree. There are more than 1,000 paralegal training programs in the U.S., ranging in length from a few months to four years. Some programs provide a general paralegal education, and some allow you to specialize in various ways. You'll have to decide, based on a variety of factors, what kind of paralegal education you want.

Step 3: Find and Pay for Your Training

Find a list of paralegal programs; chances are you can find one that meets your needs. There are also pointers for finding other schools in your area.

Find out the possibilities for financing your education, including loans, scholarships, and grants. You'll have to find out what forms you need, where to get them, how to fill them out, and where to send them, and get some tips for surviving this arduous process.

Step 4: Attend a Paralegal Program and Get the Most Out of Your Classes

Once you begin attending a program you want to make sure you get the most you can out of it. You have to learn about succeeding in your classes; some of these are things I picked up as a law student, some in teaching paralegal classes. You'll also find note-taking abbreviations that will not only help you in school, but will also help you communicate with attorneys once you begin working.

Step 5: Conduct a Job Search

While you're still in school, you should begin thinking about job hunting. An internship can lead to your first job, and you can also use resources of your school to help you find your first job and to help you succeed on it. You'll also need to learn effective methods for finding a good job once you finish your training. You'll need to research the job market, write effective and attention-getting resumes and cover letters, and nail the scariest part of job hunting-the interview. It also covers networking, a way in which more and more people find a position. Job hunting is rarely a painless procedure, but the hints in this chapter will ease your anxiety and allow you to come through the whole process intact and with a good job.

Step 6: Succeed In Your New Profession

You have to learn how to make any paralegal job-especially your first one-go smoothly and successfully. It includes hazards that can appear in the legal workplace and how you can avoid them-or recover from one. Also, you need to learn how to fit into your new job and get along with your boss and coworkers. And you will learn the importance of having a mentor and how to go about finding one, and other ways that you can promote yourself. On occasion, I will relate some of my own experiences in law school, as a practicing attorney and teacher of paralegal students. More important, though, are the thoughts of a variety of paralegals, paralegal students and educators, and lawyers that are sprinkled throughout. They are the people who know the most about the profession.

Whether you are just getting ready to graduate from high school or with a bachelor's degree or whether you are in the workplace and want a change of career or are returning to work outside becoming a paralegal can be a great career. Good luck!

Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

More about Harrison

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