Paralegals provide essential support to a wide range of professionals that work in our legal system. They investigate facts for lawyers and consultants, conduct research, gather and arrange evidence, and perform a wide range of administrative tasks that keep law offices and court rooms functioning. If you're interested in joining this fast-paced career, paralegal schools can prepare you for the task.
Some paralegals work in smaller firms and perform a wider range of functions, or focus on one case from start to finish. Those who work in large firms may only focus on a particular stage of each case. Some paralegals may also focus on a specific type of case, whether it be corporate law, litigation, personal injury, bankruptcy or another area.
Paralegal schools offer specialized training in every aspect of this field. And no matter what area interests you the most, paralegal schools provide the instruction that is required if you want to be adequately prepared. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the following paralegal specializations are the most common in the workforce today:
- Corporate Paralegals focus mainly on corporate activities such as employee contracts, shareholder agreements, and financial reports, while also ensuring a corporation remains in compliance with the law.
- Litigation Paralegals perform a wide range of tasks that pertain to litigation and trials, collect evidence, prepare reports, and perform administrative tasks.
Paralegal Certifications and Degrees
According to the BLS, there are many possible routes to become a paralegal. Most get started in the field by earning an associate's degree in paralegal studies, or they start with a bachelor's degree in another field and attend paralegal schools in order to earn certification. Employers may also hire you without paralegal certification, so long as you have a bachelor's degree in a related field.
Although certification is not required by states and may not be required by employers, many paralegals seek out voluntary certifications through national and local paralegal organizations. Courses included in these programs can include subjects such as:
- Legal research and writing
- Pleadings and motions
- Communication skills and legal ethics
As part of the program, many paralegal schools also provide opportunities for paralegal internships. Those internships help students learn many of the hands-on aspects of this job.
Paralegal Salary and Career Outlook
As law firms look for ways to cut costs for their clients, many have begun using paralegals for some of the administrative tasks that were previously performed by highly paid lawyers. This has meant a relative boost for employment for paralegals nationally, as more of these workers are hired to perform more job functions than they did in the past. The future looks bright for these professionals as well. According to BLS figures, employment for paralegals is expected to increase 17 percent nationally during the decade leading up to 2022. This is much faster than the average for all occupations.
Some states are expecting more demand for paralegals from 2012 to 2022, including the following:
- Tennessee: 48.7 %
- Washington: 32.6 %
- Florida: 32.1 %
- Utah: 30.9 %
- Texas: 29.8 %
- Arizona: 28.4 %
- Colorado: 29.9 %
- North Carolina: 27.2 %
- Georgia: 24.7 %
- Montana: 23.3 %
- Kansas: 22.1 %
Along with healthy job prospects, paralegals should also expect a relatively high salary. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for paralegals was $45,570 nationally in 2013. Meanwhile, the top ten percent of earners brought in an average of $76,960 that year. Several states saw paralegals earning more than the average in 2013 as well, including the following:
- District of Columbia: $73,350
- California: $60,060
- Alaska: $60,020
- New Jersey: $58,830
- Oregon: $56,760
Paralegals earn relatively high wages, enjoy plenty of demand for their skills, and also have the opportunity to work in the fast-paced fields of criminal justice and law. They work with lawyers and other legal professionals in an ever-changing work environment that is both stimulating and rewarding. With those benefits, it's no wonder so many students are choosing paralegal schools to help them launch a successful new career.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes232011.htm
Paralegals and Legal Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm#tab-1
Projections Central, Long-Term Projections, http://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
Paralegal Studies, San Francisco State University, http://www.cel.sfsu.edu/paralegal/