It really depends on what educational path you choose to take. There are certificate programs, degree programs, and job skill training programs. You can earn a degree by attending a community college or a university, and those may take anywhere from 18 months to 4 years.
However, a degree in paralegal is not really necessary to work in the field. Many students, and especially those who already have degrees, can do a certificate program, which can be completed in as short as 6 to 14 weeks, and sometimes can be completed in as few as 6 weeks to 12 months.
So How Long Does It Take to Become a Paralegal?
The path to becoming a paralegal can be very different for people. Some people start out knowing they want to become paralegals, mapping out their education and professional development in order to end up with the career they aim for. Others just kind of happen into the profession, by accident. Naturally, these two paths are very different, so consequently, the amount of time needed for them would be quite different as well. But how long would it take, more or less, to become a paralegal?
Nature of Education
The amount of time and experience needed before one can call oneself a paralegal changes, first of all, depending on one’s educational background. Many community colleges and other institutions of higher learning offer both bachelor’s and associate’s degrees in paralegal studies. The difference between the two is that typically, associate degrees will focus solely on the course specialization, while bachelor’s degrees frequently have courses that lie beyond the typical scope of the course. While this may seem slightly more roundabout, exposure to other fields of study may prove useful later on while actually working as a paralegal: a familiarity with medical terms, through additional biology or life sciences courses, for example, may not seem immediately relevant to a paralegal, but might be useful if the paralegal eventually works with personal injury lawyers. Both fields of study have their own merits, and should be judged on these.
On the other hand, it is possible to wind up working as a paralegal even without any formal education as one, though admittedly this is becoming less common. The availability of e-learning courses and training online has allowed people to make major changes midcareer, allowing them to assemble the skills required to become a paralegal. Many law firms now are also looking for paralegals with experience working in other office environments, making employees with experience outside the legal profession more attractive to these firms.
Length of Education
Typically, associate degrees take about four semesters, or two years’ worth of course work, while bachelor’s degrees take about eight semesters, or four years. Some universities may even offer masters or postgraduate programs in paralegal studies, and these usually take about four semesters, or two years, as well.
Skill Requirements to Become a Paralegal
Paralegals will often be tasked with the administrative and supporting duties that surround the legal profession. These duties can include anything from filing documents with courts and judges; preparation of briefs and contracts; research into relevant or related jurisprudence; or client management and liaising. Consequently the course load prospective paralegals can expect typically include classes in composition, business and technical writing, and research methods, as well as background courses covering common legal terms that will inevitably find their way into the paralegal’s workload. Paralegals are subject to the same binding commitments that their partner attorneys are, so classes in professional ethics are also typically part of a paralegal studies course: the importance of maintaining professionalism and integrity needs to be hammered into the aspiring paralegal in order to ensure their success.
Other supporting courses can be helpful as well, as in the example of the biology courses above. Paralegals may also want to explore courses in the fields of law they wish to practice in, such as real estate law, family law, or corporate law. Universities usually have courses on these fields, for the aspirant to try and see what fits them. Finally, paralegals will be working in modern offices, with all the technological advancements that have become commonplace in them. Therefore, paralegals will be expected to have a baseline familiarity with frequently used office software and applications; depending on the firm they eventually work for, this could be either the Microsoft Office suite, the Apple iWork suite, or the web-based Google Office. Classes in these will be beneficial to the paralegal as well.
Our programs at CLS by Barbri can be done in a live lecture setting, where you actually sit in a classroom on one of our college or university campuses for 6 weekends in a row, and you’ll be fully trained as a paralegal. We also offer online programs, which are increasingly popular throughout the country, that can be done in 14 weeks.
All of these programs that we offer are practical skills in nature, which is really what you should be looking for. You don’t want to spend a lot of time or money learning theory, you’d rather have the skills that you need to do the job. For more information about online or live paralegal training, paralegal certifications, or our other training courses for the legal support field, give us a call at 1 (800) 522-7737.