Most paralegals and legal assistants have an associate’s degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor’s degree in another field and a certificate in paralegal studies.
There are several paths a person can take to become a paralegal. A common path is for candidates to earn an associate’s degree in paralegal studies from a postsecondary institution.
However, many employers may prefer, or even require, applicants to have a bachelor’s degree. Because only a small number of schools offer bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies, applicants will typically have a bachelor’s degree in another subject and earn a certificate in paralegal studies from a paralegal education program approved by the American Bar Association.
Associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs in legal or paralegal studies usually offer paralegal training courses in legal research, legal writing, and the legal applications of computers, along with courses in other academic subjects, such as corporate law and international law. Most certificate programs provide intensive paralegal training for people who already hold college degrees.
Employers sometimes hire college graduates with no legal experience or legal education and train them on the job.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Although not required, some employers may prefer to hire applicants who have completed a paralegal certification program.
Some national and local paralegal organizations offer voluntary paralegal certifications to students able to pass an exam. Other organizations offer voluntary paralegal certifications for paralegals who meet certain experience and education criteria.
Communication skills. Paralegals must be able to document and present their research and related information to their supervising attorney.
Computer skills. Paralegals need to be familiar with using computers for legal research and litigation support. They also use computer programs for organizing and maintaining important documents.
Interpersonal skills. Paralegals spend most of their time working with clients and other professionals and must be able to develop good relationships. They must make clients feel comfortable sharing personal information related to their cases.
Organizational skills. Paralegals may be responsible for many cases at one time. They must adapt quickly to changing deadlines.
Research skills. Paralegals gather facts of the case and research information on relevant laws and regulations to prepare drafts of legal documents for attorneys and help them prepare for a case.