Paralegals are professionals who help lawyers to conduct research, and gather facts and information about cases. They are also tasked with handling of administrative duties for the lawyers, which makes them essential to the legal process. Training to become a paralegal is a process that requires aspirants to undergo education programs where they are imparted with the necessary skills required in the field.
Paralegal programs – To become a paralegal, you must complete a paralegal program. There are different types of programs that you can undertake.
1) Degree programs – degree programs are the most common type of paralegal programs. They are mainly offered by colleges and you can find them at your local community college. They include associate and bachelor degrees. Some colleges also offer master’s degree programs for people who would like to further their studies. Students taking these programs are taught about various legal research methods, computing skills, legal database entry, and reading and understanding of the legal language.
2) Certificate programs – for people who already hold degrees in other fields, certificate programs are the easiest way towards becoming a paralegal. Since all degree holders already have a higher education foundation, these certificate programs only specialize in one specific area – paralegal studies.
3) Online degree programs – online study option is available for both certificate and degree programs discussed above. Online paralegal programs are perfect for people who are already working as they help them balance their professional work while allowing them to study. Most of these programs can be completed online or by distance education.
The length of paralegal programs varies from one institution to the other and is also dependent on the type of program you are enrolled in. Certificate programs are the shortest as they specialize in paralegal studies only. They only take a few months to complete – approximately 3 to 6 months.
Associate degree in paralegal studies can be earned in about 1 year to 2 years with a moderate course load. The bachelor’s degree takes a bit longer, lasting for about 3 to 5 years depending on the institution. Master’s programs in paralegal studies, on the other hand can be completed in about 2 years.
Informal paralegal training can take anywhere from a few months to a few years depending on how quick the individual is on picking up and learning certain skills it takes to become a paralegal. Many experts in the industry agree that a season paralegal should have at least one year of informal training if they do not have a associates degree in the field.
After you have attained your degree or certificate, the next step towards becoming a paralegal is to apply for certification. This is quite easy as you only need to apply with the relevant regulatory body.
After receiving certification, you can then proceed to find a job as a paralegal. However, some law firms and organizations might require you to complete an internship before they hire you so that you can get experience.