Being a paralegal is a rewarding career for many people, particularly those who are organized, enjoy research and have an interest in the law. If you’re thinking about becoming a paralegal, you’ll need to undergo training so you can meet your state’s standards, if any, and so you’re prepared to do your job to the best of your ability. While training requirements vary by state, here’s some information that will help give you a picture of the necessary preparation for this job.
Certification: The Basics
Many people start their training by obtaining a paralegal certificate. There are three national professional organizations that offer national certification exams, including the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, of which the Center for Legal Studies is a part. The other two organizations are the NALS and the NALA. By taking one of these paralegal courses and earning a certificate of completion, you’ll be more marketable to prospective employers. Even more importantly, you’ll have a built-up foundation of knowledge and skills that you will be able to start off with in your new career.
There are advanced paralegal certificate programs available at some education companies. During this program, you will study and be tested on specific areas of law. While this is not required in all states, having an advanced certificate can make you more appealing to employers and increase your salary offers. You can also use this opportunity to become more knowledgeable about the particular areas of law that interest you the most.
Some legal education companies, such as the Center for Legal Studies, offer their certificate programs through nationally recognized universities and colleges. Earning your certificate through an accredited school is more desirable as employers tend to have more faith in applicants who have an education from a proven entity.
In some cases, the certificate course may translate into an associate’s degree, but generally, you will not receive credit that translates into another paralegal program. However, should you decide to pursue more education, you will already have an established base of knowledge from which to build.
Find an Internship
Nothing is a true substitute for some real-life experience. As a certificate student, you can search for internships at a local government agency, nonprofit organization, law firm or corporation. Check with local schools to see what posted internships are available, as these may be open to anyone who is interested. You can also take a look at the relevant section of your state bar association’s publication for internship listings. If there are
specific nonprofits, corporations, law firms or government agencies you’re interested in, check with their human resources departments to see what’s available.
Strengthen Your Skills
There are some core skills every paralegal needs that aren’t directly related to the law but are important for the job. Clear communication, for example, is a necessary trait for a successful paralegal. Many legal resources and courts are now online, so strong computer skills are also a must. As a paralegal, you’ll be responsible for reading and preparing written communication that will be seen by other professionals, so your reading and writing skills must be up to snuff.
Shore up these general skills used for paralegal work by studying, practicing and taking classes in your weaker areas. Use online resources and check out local schools and community centers for skill-enhancing classes.
If you’re ready to start on your path to becoming a paralegal, consider all your training options today. Review the certificate programs available at the Center for Legal Studies so you can take the first step toward your new career!