Lawyers turn to paralegals with help doing research, meeting with clients and presenting cases in from of court, but you cannot become a paralegal unless you have a college degree. While some law firms will hire you with just a degree, you may find that many of the firms in your city prefer paralegals with certification. Though you will need to pay to take the certification exam, paralegals with certification often make more per hour that paralegals with just a degree make.
Finish a Paralegal Degree
Before working as a paralegal, you need to go to college and earn a degree in paralegal studies. Vocational schools and community colleges often offer students the chance to earn an associate’s degree in around two years of full time study. Colleges offer four year degree programs that let you earn a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. In addition to taking classes on legal ethics, writing, research and communications, many schools offer internships for paralegal students. Those internships let you make connections in the criminal justice field and provide with real skills that future employers will appreciate.
Have Strong Skills
Paralegals must have a strong understanding of legal terms and the criminal justice system. While those skills will help you on the job, there are other skills that you must have too, including strong oral communications skills and good research skills. Attorneys often send paralegals to law libraries to do research on previous cases, and those paralegals then write reports that provide attorneys with the information they need. You must also have good interpersonal skills to become a paralegal. Paralegals interact and work with lawyers, other paralegals and clients every day and must know how to communicate effectively with all groups.
Pass the Certification Exam
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers a certification exam for all paralegals who have a college degree. You generally need an associate’s degree in paralegal studies and several years of experience or a bachelor’s degree and less professional experience. The exam is also open to those who can prove they have experience in the legal field, even if they have a degree in another subject. According to NALA, the five categories or areas of study covered on that exam include communications, ethics, legal research, substantive law and judgment ability. Passing this exam will give you certification that lasts for five years.
Tailor Your Resume
To find work as a paralegal, you must have a resume that will show law firms why they should hire you. When you take classes in college to become a paralegal, you may have the opportunity to take a class on careers available to paralegals. Your resume should clearly show that you have a college degree, that you gained certification and that you have some legal experience. Include information under each job, volunteer position or internship you did that shows some of the necessary skills you gained and duties you performed, including attending preliminary meetings with clients and doing research.
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Paralegals do everything from meet with clients early on to discuss their needs to sitting in the courtroom to provide attorneys with valuable research. Before you can become a paralegal though, you will need to finish a paralegal studies college program and pass the certification exam offered by NALA.