Paralegal Degrees are an alternative to law school degrees for anyone interested in legal work. These degrees are suitable for people not willing to give several years of their life to earn a law degree. These degrees are becoming increasingly popular in the US, with an ever growing number of people taking up paralegal jobs.
What Do Paralegals Do?
Paralegals usually take upon the responsibility of assisting attorneys in each and every aspect of their daily legal work. However, there are several legal duties that paralegals are not entitled to perform. Some of these duties include presenting cases in a court of law, offering legal advice, accepting legal cases, and deciding on fee issues.
On the other hand, paralegals assist attorneys by researching legal documents, drafting both civil and commercial contracts, helping with case investigations, obtaining affidavits and much more. Paralegal duties vary depending on the nature of job and the area of specialization.
How to Obtain a Paralegal Qualification?
There are several options available for individuals interested in obtaining a certified paralegal qualification. Some of the most common courses being offered at the moment are associate degrees and certificate programs in paralegal studies. These courses are being offered at private and community colleges across the U.S.
Associate’s degrees usually take two years of full-time attendance to complete, whereas certificate programs vary from three months to two years. In addition to these, there are some schools that also offer bachelor’s and master’s level degrees for prospective paralegal students. An associate’s degree might be deemed sufficient in order to earn an entry-level job in this field. However, a higher degree is almost always necessary to get the top jobs in this profession.
Furthermore, almost all paralegal qualifications allow students to specialize in their chosen legal area such as corporate or real estate law and others.
There is no compulsion to obtain paralegal certifications, but they can certainly increase your chances of getting a better or higher paid paralegal job. Individuals having passed one or all of these certifications are viewed more favorably by employers.
There are three professional bodies offering these certifications:
- National Association of Legal Assistants
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- American Alliance of Paralegals
Each of the above mentioned certifications have different criteria that prospective students must adhere to in order to obtain these qualifications. In some cases, paralegals are required to pass a standardized test before they can acquire their certification.
Career Prospects and Paralegal Salaries
While it is true that some employers give on job training to newly hired paralegals, this practice is becoming less common as prospective employers look for individuals willing to take a head start in the field and learn to deal with the ever increasing number of responsibilities.
Last year, record numbers of paralegal jobs were available on the job market, with about quarter of a million paralegals and legal assistants hired. This year, the numbers are expected to rise sharply with private law firms expected to hire a record number of paralegals. An entry-level job as a paralegal may earn you an average of $40,000 annually. But with adequate qualification and experience one can expect to earn an average of $100,000 per year.