All About a Paralegal Career: Salary, Qualification Requirements and More

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Tashay Campbell
Tashay Campbell33

Are you finding yourself more interested in Judge Judy or true crime TV shows these days? Perhaps you decided to forgo law school or you simply want more exposure to law to determine if it’s the next step for you. 

Becoming a paralegal can help you get hands-on experience and the exciting career you seek. Paralegal jobs are bountiful as most law firms and government agencies hire paralegals to assist with their caseload. Some people choose to become a paralegal for a few years while others choose the more long term path and make a career of it. These jobs are available to a wide age group and offices are always willing to hire you whether you have 20 years experience or you’re fresh out of college. 

What is a paralegal?

A paralegal is a person who is trained in subsidiary legal matters but is not fully qualified as a lawyer. Legal Assistant is another title commonly used interchangeably with paralegal. In essence, they assist attorneys with casework. Although paralegals aren’t lawyers and are restricted in the tasks and assignments they take on, they often work just as many hours as lawyers as they work behind the scenes to ensure the organization of the case. 

What does the work entail?

The range of work a paralegal does can vary widely. Depending on the specific role, some paralegals can do as much as sit in on client meetings, draft subpoenas and interview witnesses, or as little as scan documents and maintain trackers and spreadsheets. Being a paralegal can be quite interesting as you can gain exposure to the courtroom, learn how lawyers think, and appreciate the lengthy investigation and prepping that goes into trials and hearings. 

However, some offices leave the excitement for the lawyers and only count on their paralegals for administrative tasks. If there is a specific experience you desire, be sure to look into the legal office you’re applying to and try to get a good sense of the typical duties of the current paralegals. Either way, being a paralegal is a great way to witness the inner workings of a legal atmosphere and can teach you invaluable skills. 

What qualifications do you need to become a paralegal? 

To embark on your journey to become a paralegal, you will need at least a high school diploma or a GED. Otherwise, the exact qualifications you will need will vary based on the firm or organization where you’d like to work. Most firms and agencies will expect paralegals to have a college degree. Typically, any major will suffice, but some will also require official certification as a paralegal. 

For roles hiring paralegals who only plan on working as a paralegal for experience prior to law school, paralegal certificates are usually not required. For some senior paralegals or professionals who commit to the role as a career, paralegal certificates are expected if the candidate lacks previous experience in the industry. There might be other niche requirements like fluency in another language if working in immigration law, or experience working with children if working in family court. 

How long does it take to become a paralegal?

Since paralegal roles can differ so widely, you can find a paralegal job as quick as any other but if you need certification, it can take some time. A certification course can take anywhere from six months to one year to complete. These courses are flexible, offered in person and online and can be done while working full time. Other than this certification, some professionals might seek graduate degrees in paralegal studies which typically take up to two years to complete. Whether or not you will need these qualifications depends on the specific role but the more exposure and education you have relevant to the field, the easier it will be to secure a great position.

How much will I get paid?

Paralegals salaries fluctuate widely. Like most careers, a major factor that determines this is location. Working in California and New York can earn you significantly more than less populous states since these states have the most law firms and therefore, a higher demand for paralegals. Typical starting salaries can start off around $40,000 per year but some roles will end up paying out significantly more to paralegals — even double — considering all of the overtime some big firms require of the legal assistants. Older, more experienced paralegals can expect to earn around $75,000 per year. Salaries will also be influenced by industry as private practices tend to pay higher wages than government agencies and nonprofits. 

Last word

Becoming a paralegal can be a seamless endeavor that guarantees you experience in an exciting and engaging field. The role offers one the opportunity to “test out” law or to simply start a career rooted in developing cases and maintaining their organization prior to and throughout litigation. The field is flexible and can be very rewarding. Even if you end up leaving it for another path or you decide that you don’t want to do law, the skills you learn will certainly prepare you for the next chapter of your professional life.

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