Everything You Need to Know to Become a Paralegal
Paralegals provide support, research, and analysis to attorneys and other professionals who offer legal services. Paralegals ensure that operations run smoothly and that their case files are complete, comprehensive and that all paperwork is submitted in a timely manner.
The job is interesting and demanding. If you have a legal mind, and you’re not sure you’re prepared for the rigors of law school, it’s a great entry to the profession. It’s also an interesting, satisfying and demanding career in itself.
If you’ve got the communication, research, analysis and organization skills, plus you’re passionate about the law, working as a paralegal may be the ideal fit for you.
Read on to discover what it takes to get a job as a paralegal.
How to Get Hired as a Paralegal
How to Gain Skills, Knowledge, and Experience
Candidates can pursue a couple of academic channels to qualify to work as paralegals; for example, they can earn an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. It is preferred, however, that paralegals hold a bachelor’s degree. However, no bachelor’s degree is offered in paralegals studies; therefore, many pursue a bachelor’s degree in a related field, and then they earn a paralegal studies certificate by taking a course that has been approved by the American Bar Association.
Paralegals can then earn specialty certifications which designate mastery in a particular specialty area. The Professional Paralegal (PP) certification, for example, designated by the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS), reflects a commitment to ethics and professionalism. It also demonstrates proficiency in procedural and substantive law.
In the same way, paralegals may opt to broaden their career prospects by taking the Paralegal Advanced Competency Examination, which is administered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. (NFPA).
Skills for Paralegals
Paralegals have a vast and exciting role. Their skills further the work that drives all applications of the law-from litigation to corporate, real estate, probate, intellectual property, bankruptcy and family law. Paralegals help enact the work of justice on every level.
Paralegals are researchers who analyze documents. They also keep business moving for their teams by maintaining files, preparing correspondences, tracking deadlines and monitoring and fostering communications. Some work closely with clients, while other maintain a more internal role. The type of work each paralegal engages differs based on the size and needs of the firm as well as the paralegal’s background, certifications and areas of specialty. There’s plenty of room to grow in this exciting job.
Paralegal Hiring Process
Paralegals are essential to the legal workforce. Earning a role as a paralegal means demonstrating a broad range of skills. These professionals need acute analytical abilities, plus they know how to keep operations running smoothly. While there is a broad, general skill set for paralegals, there are also many specialists like immigration, real estate and corporate paralegals.
Step one in pursuing a role as a paralegal is to make sure that your resume and cover letter are updated, error-free and ready for circulation. If you’ve worked in a legal environment before, you know that the culture in legal offices tends to be formal. If you’re a freshly credentialled paralegal, keep this in mind. Dress and communication, especially at larger firms, follows the mores of the courts and is likely to be formal.
Negotiating a salary can be stressful for job seekers. This can be especially challenging if you’re negotiating directly with an attorney, who’s a seasoned pro when it comes to bolstering a savvy deal.
But don’t let your nerves get the best of you. Negotiations are all about poise, confidence and research. Prepare for this conversation, and position yourself to own it. Make sure to use Glassdoor’s Know your Worth salary calculator to aid your negotiations.
How Much Does a Paralegal Make?
Glassdoor data indicates that the average base pay for paralegals is $54,000. This base remains about the same when a paralegal claims a specialty. Experience matters: those with ten years of experience earned salaries on the high end of the range, garnering sums in range of $59,000-$80,000 annually.
Bonus pay is also a common feature for paralegals. The average bonus reported by paralegals amounted to an estimated $2,000 annually.
By checking out Glassdoor Salaries, you can filter by location to see paralegal salaries in your area. Salary estimates are based on 11,860 salaries submitted anonymously to Glassdoor by paralegals.
Paralegal Job Market
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports “Employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Formally trained paralegals with strong computer and database management skills should have the best job prospects.”
The BLS further notes that the legal field is aiming to work more efficiently in the interest of its clientele. To that end, resources, including staffing is being used more economically, which can mean exciting career opportunities for paralegals.
The BLS explains: “Due to their lower billing rates to clients, paralegals can be a less costly alternative to lawyers, performing a wide variety of tasks once done by entry-level lawyers. This should cause an increase in demand for paralegals. . . Although law firms will continue to be the largest employers of paralegals, many large corporations are increasing their in-house legal departments to cut costs. . . This will lead to an increase in the demand for legal workers in a variety of settings, such as finance and insurance firms, consulting firms, and healthcare providers.”
Paralegal Job Interview Tips
As you prepare to interview, it’s important to demonstrate your research skills by your interview prep. Learn everything you can about the firm. Scour Glassdoor to see what current and former staff say about their experience there. Make sure to learn what past interviewees have shared about their interviews, including any questions they share.
To ensure depth and fluidity in your interview answers, rehearse them as you prepare for your phone screenings and in-person interviews.
Consider these paralegal interview questions, submitted by Glassdoor users:
- There are many contracts that must be properly calendared for anniversary dates, what do you do to keep organized? and if something is held up what do you do to keep it flowing through the pipeline timely?
- What is your least favorite aspect of working in a legal support role?
- List the components of the Notice of Sale in Georgia.
- What types of assignments have you done?
- Do you have any experience in corporate law?
- Are you comfortable working with colleagues who have various different personality types?
- How do you manage a high volume workload?
Related Careers to Paralegal
Median pay: $54,000
Degrees required: High school diploma plus special training
Median pay: $47,000
Degrees required: high school diploma plus special training
Median pay: $27,000
Degrees required: high school diploma
If you have a legal mind, and you’re not sure you’re prepared for the rigors of law school, consider a job as a paralegal. Here are a few additional resources to help you find the job that fits your life:
Top Jobs for Lawyers & Attorneys
How to Write a Resume Objective
How to Build Your Own Career Path Within an Organization
9 Things to Never Say in a Salary Negotiation