Do you want to learn what it takes to become a Paralegal? If YES, here is a complete guide plus requirements needed to become a certified Paralegal online.
In the United States, paralegals aren’t authorized by the government to offer legal services like lawyers, neither are they officers of the court but in Ontario, Canada; paralegals are regulated and licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada, the same way as lawyers; but only operate within a defined scope. Paralegals may specialize in areas like litigation, corporate law, criminal law, intellectual property, bankruptcy, real estate, family law etc.
What is a Paralegal?
A paralegal is an individual who isn’t a lawyer, but who performs routine tasks that require some knowledge of the law and its procedures, thereby assisting the lawyer in the delivery of legal services.
A paralegal is an individual that has been trained in legal matters, and can perform tasks that requires some degree of knowledge in the law and legal matters. A paralegal is often employed in a law office, but can also work freelance at either a company or law firm.
A paralegal works under the direct supervision of the attorney, and the attorney is held responsible for the actions of the paralegal. Paralegals analyze and summarize depositions, prepare questions and answers interrogatories, draft procedural motions and other routine briefs as directed by the attorney.
Duties of a Paralegal and their Job Description
Paralegals have various duties that are carried out to support lawyers, which includes organizing and maintaining files, drafting legal documents and conducting legal research. The duties of a paralegal include:
- Investigating the facts of a case.
- Conducting legal research as regards relevant laws, regulations, as well as legal articles.
- Gathering and arranging of evidence and other legal documents that can be used by the attorney to either review or prepare for a case.
- Draft legal documents and correspondence such as mortgages, and contracts.
- Help lawyers prepare for trials by helping to write reports that will be used.
- Filing of exhibits, briefs, appeals and other legal documents either with the opposing counsel or with the courts.
- Helping lawyers in courts by handling exhibits, reviewing the transcripts of the trial or taking notes.
- Help lawyers in preparing for corporate meetings, trials, and hearings.
- Help lawyers to schedule interviews, meetings, and depositions by calling clients, opposing counsels, witnesses.
- Help get affidavits and formal statements that might be used as evidence in the courts.
- Help lawyers especially those in small firms; determine how a case should be handled.
- Monitoring of legal volumes and ensuring that the law library is kept up-to-date.
- Discuss the details of a case by meeting with clients and other professionals.
Equipment and Tools Used by Paralegals
- Computers either desktop or laptop
- Fax machines
- Optical character recognition equipment
- Audio recorders
Other tools that help them in being effective are software and are:
- Spreadsheet software
- File versioning software
- Electronic mail
- Digital contracts software
- Sure Will Writer
- ProForce Paralegal pro-Pack
- Drafting libraries
- Customer relationship management software.
How to Become a Paralegal Online – A Complete Guide
- Facts, Figures and Labor Market Situation for Paralegals
In the United States
As at 2012, there were 277,000 paralegals in the United States with a projected job percentage outlook of between 15% and 21% from 2012 to 2022. 91,200 paralegals are to be employed between 2012 and 2022. Entry level education for paralegals is an Associate’s Degree.
- There is a paralegal day in the U.S even though most states have their own fixed dates different from that of other states.
- Formally trained paralegals with experience, strong computer and database skills have the best job prospects.
- Most paralegals have an associate degree or a certificate in paralegal studies.
- College graduates with a bachelor’s degree and no legal experience can often be hired and be trained on the job.
- There are about between 500 and 650 programs for paralegals.
In the United Kingdom
There is an estimated figure of 300,000 paralegals in England and Wales, the number is more than that of the solicitors and barristers combined.
- Paralegals are referred to as Legal Associate Professionals
- They are regarded as legal sector workers with middle skills.
- Paralegals can become Chartered Legal Executives if they follow the career path of Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx)
- Paralegals can become solicitors through the CILEx route without undergoing a training contract.
- Freelance paralegals may be paid hourly or daily and their rates are usually between £60 and £260 per day.
- There are almost 4,000 government regulated paralegal firms that are offering services previously offered by lawyers.
- The title ‘Paralegal’ is not protected and so almost anyone can call themselves one for now.
- Accredited paralegals acts as police station representatives and give general advice to clients in police custody.
- A paralegal can work as freelance by offering services to solicitors such as assisting them in court, taking notes, and presenting applications to District Judges in their chambers.
Paralegal earns an average salary of AU$51,435 per year. Additional experience from 10 years as a paralegal attracts little effect on pay. Most people change jobs after 20 years.
- There is no legislation for ethical and educational standards for paralegals in Australia.
- The paralegal community is still an informal one as there is no national professional association.
- Paralegals are not classified as a specific profession in the government employment statistics.
- Australian lawyers are slow to accepting paralegal functions in carrying out quasi-legal duties.
- Education for paralegals in Australia is scant with only one university, Southern Cross University, offering and Associate Degree in Law (Paralegal studies).
As at 2006, more than 27% of paralegals held a bachelor’s degree. Paralegals who were immigrants were at about 11%. About 50% of paralegals worked in the offices of lawyers and notaries, and 30% in public administration. About 81% of paralegals were women. The median ages for paralegals fell between 25 and 44 years. 90.2% of paralegals worked full time with about 18.7% holding a Bachelor’s Degree
- Employment has increased for paralegals.
- Most law graduates start out as paralegals to acquire experience before becoming lawyers.
- Paralegals are referred to as legal agents and can represent on many matters from provincial offences to summary of criminal cases.
- Paralegals in law firms require a bachelor’s degree or a law college diploma.
- Independent paralegals require knowledge of legal principles that can be obtained through industry-sponsored courses, or through completion of paralegal program from a community college.
- Independent paralegals can represent clients in small claims courts and in tribunals.
- Independent paralegals can advise clients and also take legal actions as regards tenancy matters between landlord and tenants, traffic violations, changes in name and other such issues.
- In Alberta, there are no legislations regulating paralegals, as majority work under the supervision of lawyers.
- In Ontario, paralegals are a regulated body within the legal system.
- Paralegals as well as lawyers in Ontario are required to complete the Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
What is the Effect of the Internet and Technology on the Profession?
- Most Paralegal courses are done online with only few paralegals attending the traditional school.
- Networking opportunities are often done online, this is positive as it often provides the paralegals with the opportunity of meeting vast members of colleagues as well as other members of the legal system.
- Research is now done via the internet, as it makes the workload for the paralegals easier and ensures an effective and efficient result.
Not everything can be found on the internet, and paralegals still have to use the traditional route of research.
Career Opportunities That Exists in the Paralegal Profession
- Claim Adjusters, Appraisers, Appraisers, Examiners and Investigators: They help evaluate insurance claims and decide if an insurance company should pay a claim, and how much should be paid.
- Lawyers: A lawyer is one who practices the law by applying abstract legal theories and knowledge so as to solve specific problems, or represent the interest of those who had hired him by assisting and guiding them as to matters relating to the law.
- Occupational Health and Safety Technicians: They collect data on the health and safety conditions in the workplace.
- Secretaries and Administrative Assistants: They organize files, draft messages, schedule appointments and generally perform routine clerical and administrative duties.
- Tax Examiners and Collectors, and Revenue Agents: They are agents who ensure that businesses and citizens pay their tax money to federal, state, and local governments.
- Tax Preparers: Tax preparers help the government or others prepare income tax returns for compensation.
- Title Examiners, Abstractors, and Searchers: They examine titles, search real estate records, and summarize important legal documents including insurance for different purposes.
- Billing, Cost, and Rate Clerks: They compute fees and charges, compile data, as well as prepare invoices for billing purposes.
- Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks: They classify, compute and record data that helps keep financial records complete.
- Brokerage Clerks: They perform duties such as sale or holding of securities.
- Municipal Clerks: They help draft agendas and bylaws that are used in town and city councils. They also take minutes of council meetings.
- Eligibility Interviewers, Government Programs: They help determine people who are eligible to receive assistance from agency resources and government programs.
- Legal Secretaries: They perform duties that are secretarial in nature but use legal terminologies, documents, and procedures.
- Legal Staffing Recruiters: These are Human Resources professionals that specifically work in the legal field; and help in recruiting lawyers and legal staff for firms or agencies looking for them. They also draw up strategies that aim at retaining employees and work with senior management.
- Pro Bono Program Coordinator: This is an individual that is responsible for planning, developing, implementing, and evaluating pro bono legal projects that is aimed at increasing alumni participation, and law students’ participation in community service.
- Professional Development and Training Managers: They ensure that staffs are properly trained to do their jobs effectively. They also ensure that employee learn new skills as well as developing the existing ones.
- Foreclosure Specialist: This is one who helps those especially homeowners faced with having their property or house reclaimed by either a lending institution or a bank, due to non-payment of their mortgage determine their eligibility in restricting the loan so as to save their property.
- Library Research Assistant: This is one who assists the Research Librarian in providing specialized research activities and references, to the law school faculty, staff, students as well as the practicing bar and community.
- Professional legal blogger: This is an individual who writes on law related practices online and could write on varying topics such as marketing, education, technology, administration and others that could help growing law firms, law students and the community as well.
- Legislative Affairs Director: This is a public relation specialist that coordinates legislative efforts by working with the federal, state, local government, and the media. They also help organizations meet legislative goals by helping create policy proposals.
- Litigation Support Analyst: This is one who is responsible for the daily litigation support needs of assigned projects and cases. The analyst helps in building, maintaining, as well as troubleshooting databases for large and complex litigations.
- Venture Capital Executive Assistant: This is an individual who is knowledgeable about startups and technology, and also able to manage multiple projects, as well as anticipating and prioritizing business needs.
- Contracts Administrator: This is an individual expected to coordinate, review the formulation and finalization of contracts. This is a requirement to be done in collaboration with the management and legal staff.
- Process Server: A process server is one who is responsible for filing court papers, serving legal documents to a person or defendant involved in a court case and retrieving same.
Professional Bodies and Associations in the Paralegal Profession
In the United States
- National Federation of Paralegals Association (NFPA): NFPA routinely monitors legislation, case law, changes to rules of responsibilities, and ethics opinions that might affect the paralegal profession.
- National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA): NALA provides continuing education to paralegals and professional development programs.
In the United Kingdom
- Institute of Paralegals (IOP): They are a body that helps develop the paralegal profession, as well as organizing the code of conduct for paralegals.
- National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP): NALP provides practical and academic courses for professional paralegals.
- Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx): CILEx is an approved regulator and provides a limited progression route to lawyer status for paralegals.
Paralegals in Australia do not have a national body and are under the wide umbrella of The Law Council of Australia, a body that represents all legal practitioners in the country.
- Canadian Association of Paralegals (CAP): CAP organizes code of conduct as well as advocating for paralegals in Canada.
Benefits of Becoming a Certified Paralegal
- Increased Employment Outlook: According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, there is a prediction that between 2008 and 2018, the demand for paralegals will grow by 28%. This is due to the fact that clients want a thorough and efficient delivery of legal services. Most law firms have more paralegals than they do lawyers, especially as their billing rates are cheaper as compared to lawyers.
- Education entry requirements: To become a lawyer requires at least seven years of formal education and rigorous study, plus having to pass the bar exams before one can practice. This is not so with paralegals as becoming one takes a few months or at most two years of study. Moreover, paralegals do not have to physically attend schools, as there are various online programs that one can take.
- High Intellectual Challenge: Paralegals often need high-level skills to effectively handle their jobs. Critical skills involve problem solving and innovative thinking. Paralegals are often experts in their specialized subject matters and are adept at researching, drafting, and legal procedures. Paralegals have to also stay on top of new legal trends, as well as changing laws whilst daily interfacing with attorneys, opposing counsel, clients, and other staff members.
- Growth Opportunities: Paralegals can comfortably advance within the law firms they work or in their careers. Some experienced paralegals advance to management positions as well as supervisory positions.
- Other Job Opportunities: Paralegals can work in other industries other than law firms. Paralegals can work in banks, hospitals, in-house legal departments, government agencies, insurance companies, armed forces, and finance companies. Some might even teach either in paralegal schools or work for paralegal organizations.
- Setting their own schedules: Paralegals who do not want to work for just one law firm can decide to become freelance or self-employed. Although they would still be under the direct supervision of an attorney, these type of paralegals can work from home or even in an office on a contract basis. This ensures that paralegals who are family inclined can set their own work hours and schedules accordingly.
- Rising pay: The pay for paralegals are steadily rising, especially as they now perform broad and more complex tasks and despite the poor economic outlooks which have affected lawyers and other legal professionals. Even though the average salary is rising for paralegals in most firms, they mostly make more from bonuses and overtime.
- Opportunity to help others: The job of a paralegal is beneficial especially as it gives one the opportunity of helping others; though it might vary depending on the practice or specialized area of the paralegal. It is rewarding to help clients go through a difficult process, especially when they receive the benefits or reward through the efforts of the paralegals.
Factors That Discourage People from Becoming a Paralegal
- High Stress: Paralegals often are pressured with varying multiple short-term deadlines, and rising workloads leaving them extremely stressed out. Another stressing factor is that fact that most cases hinge on how well the research was carried out, witnesses interviewed, or which law was recently changed. A paralegal has to be fast, dependable, and analytical and this is one factor that might discourage people from becoming paralegals.
- Long Hours: Due to tight deadlines, dwindling workforce, and high workloads; paralegals often have to work for longer hours, with some working overtime and on weekends. This means that most paralegals work for more than 40 hours a week especially those working in law firms. There are hardly any resources that help paralegals in toning down the stress as the focus is mainly on lawyers.
- Lack of respect: Paralegals are often disrespected and disregarded by clients, opposing counsels, attorneys, associates who are jealous and even spouses. This is especially as they are seen as below the level of lawyers or attorneys. Also, paralegals are often given a higher workload with short deadlines regardless of how much workload they are presently handling, this is a total disregard of the importance of paralegals.
- Role limitation: Paralegals in most parts of the world cannot engage in unauthorized practice of the law, especially as there are statutes that limit the practice of law to licensed attorneys. This means that paralegals cannot set client fees, accept cases from a client, render legal advice, sign legal documents, or appear in a representative capacity before an adjudicatory body or court.
Also, this means that paralegals are not given credit for outstanding performance except sometimes within the law firm.
- Routines and out-of-scope work: Most paralegals especially the new ones, often perform tasks that are routine and tedious in nature. Most of the boring and mindless tasks are given to paralegals, while the interesting ones might be given to lawyers, associates and partners. In some firms, paralegals perform work that is beyond their scope, like administrative, clerical and secretarial tasks.
- Dwindling jobs: Between 2009 and 2010, the legal sector lost 22,220 jobs according to the Labour Department. Most paralegals especially those without a formal education, experience, or certificate are losing their jobs to experienced and educated paralegals. Even though the economy is slowly recovering, the job rate for paralegals cannot go back to being like it was before.
- Legal trends: Most paralegals that aren’t well rounded often find themselves without jobs especially when the area of law they specialize in experiences a decrease in business. Also paralegals that specialize in specific areas always find it harder to get jobs, than those that are well-rounded or experienced in several areas.
How Much Do Paralegals Earn Monthly/Annually?
- Paralegals in the United States as at 2014, earned an average yearly income of $48,350 with an average hourly wage of $23.24. In the private sector, the median yearly salary was $67,000 for paralegals, while Federal Paralegals earned an average of $73,000 yearly.
- In the United Kingdom, new entry non-graduate paralegals working for solicitors’ firm earned between £14,000 and £22,000, while new entry graduate paralegals earned between £18,000 and £25,000 per year. Experienced paralegals earned between the range of £30,000 and £40,000.
- In Australia, a paralegal earns an average salary of AU$51,435 per year.
- In Canada, a paralegal earns an average of C$50,109 per year.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Certified Paralegal?
- In the United States, depending on the route certificate or Associate Degree, it could take as low as 3 months and as high as 2 years.
- In the United Kingdom, it requires a minimum of zero months as one can become a paralegal without any qualification, or an apprenticeship of 4 years.
- In Australia, you could become a paralegal in 3 years.
- In Canada, you can become a paralegal in one or two years especially if they had completed high school and have met other eligibility requirements.
Educational Requirements Needed to Become a Paralegal?
In the United States
- Associate Degree: This can be gotten in a community college paralegal program.
- Bachelor’s Degree: This like the Associate Degree combines paralegal trainings which include internship for several months. Only a small number of schools offer a bachelor’s degree program.
- Master’s Degree: This is for people who want to have an edge over their colleagues.
Sometimes, employers hire graduates from college with no legal experience and provide them with training.
In the United Kingdom
Even though there are no specific rules regarding qualifications and trainings, paralegals with the following have an edge over others:
- A diploma or higher diploma in paralegal practice award,
- Diploma or legal secretary certificate in legal studies,
- An HND/HNC or foundation degree in law or paralegal practice,
- A bachelor degree in law is a big advantage.
Alternative entry routes are available through
- Advanced Apprenticeship
- Higher Apprenticeship.
- Vocational Education and Training (VET) Qualification in Legal Services: This can be taken by high students who want to become paralegals, so as to get either a Certificate I, II or III qualification.
- Associate Degrees: This is a 2 year course for intending paralegals without any tertiary qualification.
- Bachelor Degrees: This is a 4 year course for those that want to have a tertiary degree. This degree combined with any paralegal certificate gives an edge over others.
- Certificates: These can be completed in one year and focus exclusively on paralegal education.
- Diplomas: This is for intending paralegals that have secondary education or work experience in the legal field. It is usually completed in 2 years.
- Degrees: This is for both general and paralegal courses and is usually completed in 4 years.
Certifications Required to Become a Professional Paralegal
- In the United States, there is the Paralegal Core Competency Exam (PCCE) with the criteria being either a bachelor’s degree, paralegal certificate, continuing legal education or no experience.
- In the United Kingdom, paralegals can take a course like the Level 3 Diploma in Paralegal Practice, which is designed for experienced paralegals and is a step from becoming a professional paralegal.
- In Australia, paralegals can take the Diploma of Legal Services.
- In Canada, one can take the Paralegal (Graduate Certificate) course. It is for intending paralegals
How Much Does it Cost to Become a Certified Paralegal?
- In the US, the PCCE costs $215 to apply.
- In the UK, the Level 3 Diploma in Paralegal practice costs £990
- In Australia, the Diploma of Legal Services costs between $4,400
- In Canada, the Paralegal (Graduate Certificate) costs $4,782 for domestic students.
Can You Become a Paralegal By Taking Online Courses?
Yes, one can become a paralegal by taking an online course. Most paralegal accredited courses and programs are offered online, with only few programs being offered in traditional schools. Most paralegal courses take between 1 year and 2 years to complete.
Skills Needed to Become a Successful Paralegal
- Communication Skills: Communication is an important skill for a paralegal. Paralegals interview clients, take down witness statement, discuss the facts of a case with the supervising attorney, contact an expert, or schedule a court reporter. Paralegals serve as a lawyer’s liaison between opposing counsel, clients, experts, vendors, and other necessary parties in a transaction or litigation.
- Writing Skills: As it is with communication, paralegals need to be able to have a writing skill. Writing is integral to a paralegal’s function and the art of concise, persuasive and clear writing have to be mastered by a paralegal. Paralegals have to write either simple or complex document, for example transactional paralegals help draft agreements, contracts, resolutions, and any other related documents while litigation paralegals draft pleadings, motions, discovery, correspondence, and other such documents.
- Investigative and Research Skills: Investigative skills are needed especially in criminal, civil and transactional cases. Paralegals might need to track down evidences, witnesses, records and documents that might be needed to help with a case. With the rise in technology, paralegals not only have to master the traditional research, but that of the internet as well. Paralegals must also be proficient in using legal research databases. They also have to properly cite legal authority and analyze case facts.
- Organizational Skills: Paralegals help lawyers bring order to their files and cases during civil, transactional and criminal. Litigation and corporate transactions usually generate vast amounts of data and documents that have to be organized and filed properly. Therefore, paralegals must be able to sort, categorize according to priority, index, order, and organize information, and documents.
- Multi-Tasking: Paralegals often have to handle more than one case and usually with deadlines from multiple supervisors and clients. A paralegal must develop the multi-tasking skill so as to enable him or her in prioritizing tasks as well as striking a balance between demands and the other duties demanded of a paralegal.
- Attention to Detail: Paralegals have to pay attention to details in tasks such as verifying legal authority in memos and briefs, reviewing documents, managing exhibits and title searches. Also paralegals have to pay keen attention on the logistics as regarding a trial, from court dates, postponements, numbering exhibits, filing deadlines, and double checking budgets.
- Teamwork: Teamwork is an essential for a paralegal especially as there are rules such as unauthorized practice of law that requires that paralegals be supervised by attorneys. In delivering legal services, a team with multiple skills is needed to achieve a quality and cost-effective service for the client. This means that paralegals have to work with a collection of lawyers, associates, partners, fellow paralegals, legal secretaries, and others to be able to achieve a set task. Paralegals also have to work with outside parties like clients, experts, and opposing counsels
Advice and Tips to Help Advance your Career as a Paralegal
- Joining National and Local Paralegal Organizations: The organizations help paralegals in advancing their careers by providing a networking opportunity. The organizations also organize seminars, workshops, conferences and offer educational materials that will help the paralegals stay updated as regards the latest trends in the legal field.
- Volunteering: Another way at meeting others and growing one’s profile is to volunteer, both at legal and non-legal services. Apart from imparting knowledge learnt, the paralegal also gains and develops key skills in leadership, organization and teamwork.
- Finding a mentor: The willingness to learn or be mentored by someone who knows the job better and has an extensive knowledge is a good way at advancing the career of a paralegal. While this might seem like a tip for new paralegals, it is a tip for the experienced paralegals as well.
- Choosing when to air opinions: One skill a paralegal needs is active listening, which means that the paralegal must listen attentively to what is being communicated, comprehend and reply accordingly so as to be able to solve a problem or a task. A paralegal must know when to air his or her opinions and when to listen to avoid being seen as being pushy.
- Changing Industries: Paralegals have skills that are transferable and can therefore be put to use in other industries such as finance, insurance, banking, corporate world and healthcare. Changing industries is an opportunity at growing for a paralegal as new skills are learnt and added to previous skills.
- Read online: Paralegals rarely have the time to finish a workload but when opportunities in form of breaks – during lunch, while waiting to pick the kids, during bedtime – presents itself, a serious paralegal can use that period by reading up articles, blogs, case summaries online, and also stay updated as regards current legal trends. There are many great legal sources where such information can be gotten.
- Online Networking: There are online communities that are perfect for networking for a paralegal whilst acting as a profile booster as well. To boost his or her profile, a paralegal would need to engage in activities by posting articles, commenting on interesting and enlightening articles, and generally participating in group discussions. This is also advantageous as a paralegal could join as many groups as he or she wants.
Paralegals can be found in all type of organizations but most paralegals work in law firms, corporate offices and government agencies. Most of their work is carried out either in the office or the law libraries and sometimes some can travel to gather information as regards a case. Most paralegals usually work full time with a few working freelance.
Paralegals often specialize in one or two areas with few being all rounded. There are two major types of paralegals, and they are the litigation paralegal and the corporate one. Due to increasing amounts of data and documents, paralegals have to be proficient in using technology and computer software in managing and organizing vast information.