There are no education or training requirements in order to become a paralegal. However, most of today’s law firms prefer to hire competent and experienced paralegals with adequate education and training. Looking into paralegal training is vital if you want to succeed in this kind of profession.
It is said that the paralegal training can be a combination of various courses. If you’ve finished a 4-year college degree, you should consider taking up certificate programs. The latter focuses on the legal courses. If you’re on your way to taking higher education, you can look into associate’s degrees that consist of general education and paralegal courses.
The Training Program
An effective training program for paralegals should require classroom work for sixty hours. At least 18 hours should cover paralegal courses, while the rest can focus on general education. The ABA or American Bar Association also requires a school offering certificate programs to have a legal library for students, and must offer placement or counseling assistance. The instructors of these programs should possess the necessary qualifications. A committee consisting of private and public sector lawyers or paralegals must work closely with the instructors.
The above requirements only cover certificate programs. Those who want to become paralegals can also take up an associate’s degree, which is the most common today. The coursework can range from 60-80 hours. Like the certificate programs, half of the coursework is focused on general education and the other half on paralegal. An associate’s degree is commonly finished in two years. The program must cover courses on rules of civil procedure, legal research/writing, criminal law and procedures, walls, trusts, and estates, contracts, tort law and civil litigation, ethics, family law, bankruptcy and business entities, and real property. Most of these courses require 3.0 credit hours. Remaining hours should cover courses on math, English, communications, computers, business, and science.
Regardless of the paralegal training program you choose, the approval guidelines of the American Bar Association should be observed.
Are you currently working? If you are employed and you’re a graduate of another field, the certificate program is the fastest way to become a paralegal. For those who plan to study part-time, you can finish the program in 8-12 months. In most cases, the coursework will involve American jurisprudence, personal injury and torts, family law, civil litigation, real estate law, business law, ethics, alternative dispute resolution, and legal research/writing.
In addition to the core curriculum, the certificate program can also cover specialty areas like immigration, intellectual property, and administrative or civil law. Preparation courses can also be offered to aid you when taking the Certified Paralegal Certification or the Certified Legal Assistant.
Accredited Paralegal Training
You have to look into the accreditation of a training program because it is an assurance of the program’s quality. A school can receive accreditation from local and state bar associations, and regional bodies. You must be aware that very few paralegal training programs are currently accredited, so be sure to look around. The accreditation process is voluntary and it is a bit expensive. For this reason, not many schools are willing to seek accreditation. However, the schools tend to follow the guidelines set by the accrediting bodies.
By choosing accredited training programs, you can pursue higher studies like masters or doctorate. In the job market, students from accredited schools or programs receive higher recognition and have the competitive edge. Graduates of accredited programs are well-trained and the schools usually follow the established standards.
As mentioned earlier, the paralegal training can be accredited by different bodies. Regional accreditations are given within a certain jurisdiction by following the recognition process of the federal government. In certain locations, state bar accreditations are given. The ABA is the most recognized accreditation body and it has already approved over 200 paralegal training programs which does NOT include online or distance learning programs. If you have plans of taking up online programs, you can check with the Distance Education and Training Council.
Types of Training
Most interested individuals who want to become paralegals want to find out the type of training required to achieve their dream profession. Well, the type of training will depend on several factors like location and education attainment. In most state or countries, there is no standard education and training requirement to become a paralegal. However, most law firms these days prefer to hire college graduates or those that finished certificate programs.
To become a paralegal, you should be willing to work hard. The job entails clerical and research work, regardless if you work for a small or big law firm, be it the private or public sector. Paralegals with several years experience in the job are likely to be competent like that of a graduate of a paralegal program. The secret is work hard and gain lots of relevant experience especially if you have no plans of taking any paralegal training program.
If you haven’t decided on taking up higher education, now is the time to decide if you want to become a paralegal. The main advantage of paralegal training is that it usually includes internship to help students in gaining practical knowledge. Students can take internships with law firms (private or public sector), a bank, or legal department to gain practical knowledge about the profession. You can also check with the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) to determine how you can get a designation of CLA (Certified Legal Assistant).
Having excellent investigative and research skills and knowledge in legal terminologies is a great advantage. You also need to be computer literate since most of the legal researches and paperwork are done using computers. Depending on the area or specialty field that you want to focus on, it is vital that you know the latest developments. It is common for paralegals to work with different kinds of people; hence, it is vital that you’re courteous and follow the ethical standards of the profession. Make sure that you are familiar with the ethical guidelines established by paralegal associations, to avoid problems.
Other Things You Should Know
Just in case you’re on a tight budget, you can visit the community college in your area. You can ask about the paralegal training programs being offered. You can either take an associate’s degree or a bachelor degree that is highly relevant to the profession. For the graduates of 4-year degree courses, the fastest way to become a paralegal is to obtain a certification. Certification programs are widely available and you can finish it in a few months.
You have to find out the accreditation agencies and governing bodies in your state or country. If you live in the US, the ABA is the most prominent body that approves paralegal training programs. In other countries, the associations of paralegals can come with a different name. Know the local guidelines and training requirements to become a paralegal. You need to invest time, effort, and money to achieve your dream job.
Becoming a paralegal is not that hard. The job’s duties and responsibilities can be tough, but if you’re looking forward to an exciting profession, this is the best career for you aside from being a lawyer. You must plan for your career in advance since you have to finish a 4-year degree or a certificate program. As long as you’re well-informed, you will know the right path to take.