Since paralegals and legal assistants help conduct legal research on relevant laws and regulations, draft documents, organize and maintain files, investigate facts of a case, take notes in trial and much more, it's clear that they play a vital role in the legal process. There are various areas a paralegal may specialize in, such as litigation and corporate law. Corporate paralegals, for example, help lawyers prepare everything from employee contracts to shareholder agreements. Paralegal school, or a program in paralegal studies at a vocational school or technical school, may be an important step in entering this sustainable, growing field.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) lists several specializations paralegals can enter, going more in-depth on a few, such as:
- Litigation -- conduct research for lawyers, maintain client documents and organize and retrieve evidence for use in trials and depositions.
- Personal injury
- Employee benefits
- Intellectual property
- Corporate -- help lawyers prepare everything from employee contracts to stock-option plans and review and monitor government regulations.
Paralegal certifications and degrees
Most paralegals and legal assistants, according to the BLS, have an associate degree in paralegal studies or a bachelor's degree in another field paired with a certificate in paralegal studies (since very few schools offer a bachelor's or master's in paralegal studies). Sometimes people with a bachelor's degree and no legal experience or education may be hired and then trained on the job.
You may expect to take courses in legal research and the legal applications of computers in associate's and bachelor's degree programs, the BLS states, and receive intensive paralegal training in certificate programs (which sometimes only take a few months to complete). Certificate programs are often geared to people who already hold college degrees in something else.
Certifications aren't required by most employers, according to the BLS, but could give a job applicant an edge sometimes in landing a job. Certifications usually consist of an exam. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers Certified Paralegal credentialing and continuing education opportunities.
Paralegal salary and career outlook
A paralegal career definitely has the potential to be sustainable. According to the BLS, the national mean annual wage of paralegals and legal assistants in the United States as of May 2013 was $51,170, with the lowest-paid 10 percent earning an annual wage of $29,740 and the highest-paid 10 percent earning an annual wage of $76,960.
Employment prospects are looking good for paralegals, according to the BLS. Employment of paralegals and legal assistants is expected to grow by 17 percent between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than the average of all occupations. And the states with the highest expected growth, percentage-wise, between 2012 and 2022, according to Projections Central, are:
- Tennessee: 48.7 percent
- Washington: 32.6 percent
- Florida: 32.1 percent
- Utah: 30.9 percent
- Colorado: 29.9 percent
The paralegal field is one with many specializations, each of which the data suggests is sustainable and growing. After heading off to college, technical school or vocational school and earning a degree or certificate in paralegal studies, you can begin applying to join this vital profession.
Certification, National Association of Legal Assistants, Accessed September 25, 2014, http://www.nala.org/Certification.aspx
Long Term Occupational Projections, Projections Central, paralegal and legal assistants, 2012-2022, https://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
Paralegal and legal assistant, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm
Paralegal and legal assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes232011.htm