Paralegals: Education and Career Path

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that opportunities of employment for paralegals will grow faster in the next years than for many job careers and will translate into thousands of new paralegal positions. Now is the ideal time to begin an exciting and lucrative career as a paralegal!

Where Do Paralegals Work?

In recent years, “para-professionals” have become common in Doctors’ and dentists’ offices and clinics to assist these professionals in their work. Similarly, lawyers and the legal profession employ paralegals to perform a wide variety of important tasks. Today, private law firms provide excellent employment opportunities for certified paralegals.

Additionally, corporations and small businesses have discovered that it makes economic sense to employ paralegal professionals to assist or replace in-house and out-sourced attorneys and legal firms. Government opportunities include the many federal and state legal offices of prosecutors, public defenders and other government agencies.

Alternatively, you can start your own business. Often law firms or businesses in need of legal expertise contract out legal work to trained and experienced paralegals to serve as consultants. Consequently, an increasing number of paralegal professional entrepreneurs have successfully established their own businesses. Beside business support, many self-employed paralegals help the public navigate their way through legal matters.

Paralegal Compensation?

An experienced corporate paralegal can earn a national average salary of $70K. In a law firm, about $60K is an average wage. In government agencies average salaries are usually somewhat lower but often provide increased benefits and a first step to higher salaried positions in the private sector.

International law is the highest-paying paralegal specialty at $15 K above the average. Corporate law involving mergers and acquisitions are close at $10K above the average. Labor law and litigation are also above average. Moreover, all paralegal salaries have risen in recent years and will continue to increase.

Paralegal Career Training

Paralegal training provides a basic paralegal certification as well as certification in a wide variety of specialized areas of legal knowledge. Most “general” certifications can be earned by completing online paralegal training at numerous well-known schools, colleges and universities.

Online paralegal training in areas of legal specialization is an excellent choice for any certified paralegal interested in advancement or increased employment opportunities. In some metropolitan areas, many private and public colleges offer both online paralegal training and on campus continuing education with evening classes or intensive, full time programs.

A full time campus program includes about 50 hrs of instruction over about 2 weeks. Evening programs might cover up to 2 months or more. An online paralegal training course often extends over 5 months of self-paced instruction. Online paralegal training is significantly less expensive.

Course Work

Whether provided as an on campus or online paralegal training program, course work should include:

  • Legal Research: Knowledge of how to research constitutional law, case law, statutory law, regulatory law and executive orders
  • Legal Reasoning and Writing: The distinction between issues of fact and issues of law and how to use each in the understanding, writing and editing of a case brief
  • Technology and the Paralegal: Besides legal applications designed for Ms Word, Excel and PowerPoint with additional training in LiveNote, CaseMap, PACER and other legal software
  • Real Estate: Understanding the forms of property ownership, property transfer, purchase offers, sale agreements, title searches and more
  • Corporate Law: Business transactional law and laws regarding the formation and functioning of business entities such as corporations, partnerships and LLCs
  • Litigation: Filing a lawsuit, preparing a case for trial, the use of discovery devices, statutory privileges, depositions, and the role of experts
  • Probate and Family Law: Probate and elder law regarding estate planning, writing of wills and their disposition

A paralegal certification should provide an entry-level paralegal with the core skills to compete successfully in the knowledge-based legal environment.

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