How to Be a Paralegal

By Eric Hammer

So you want to be a paralegal. The job is not quite the same as a lawyer and it doesn't require nearly the same amount training as a lawyer, however you do still get to do work in the legal field. Paralegals are basically assistants to lawyers.

You may write briefs for the attorney, do research on various subjects that the attorney needs research done on and occasionally prepare some legal documents. You will not however be meeting with clients, nor will you be going to court and you will not be offering any legal advice (not unless you want to get yourself in extreme legal trouble if something you say makes the situation go south).

Those who want to be a paralegal need to be extremely well organized and able to multitask since your job will entail doing several things at once. You'll also need to have a keen, analytical mind to be able to write up the documents that your attorneys will need.

How Much Can You Make?

According to the bureau of labor statistics, the salary ranges quite widely for paralegals, from $29,260 to as much as $73,450 per year.

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If you want to be a paralegal, you'll need to be able to maintain a professional attitude and work well under stress. You'll also have to learn to track your time. Lawyers typically work on the basis of billable minutes and will require that you document the amount of time you spend on any given client, writing it down so that your salary can be billed to the client (plus a premium that the attorney keeps of course).

Some paralegals also specialize in particular areas, such as deep research and instead of working full time for an attorney will work on a freelance basis, preparing briefs for the attorneys they work for as needed and then moving on to another client.

If you like the idea of working in the law but don't want to be a paralegal, other related jobs include being a legal secretary, where you perform secretarial duties in a law firm, including such things as transcription work and being a court reporter.

Qualifications / Requirements

You'll need at least a high school diploma in order to be a paralegal. Many law firms will also require that you earn a certificate and or a bachelor's degree. Most paralegal jobs don 't require a master degree, however it certainly cannot hurt your job prospects to have one.

You may also want to consider getting certified as a legal assistant, which will give you a leg up on the competition for the best jobs.

First Steps

Start by contacting various law firms and ask if they are looking for a paralegal on a temporary basis, perhaps to take over for someone one maternity leave or vacation. Often, the firms will be happy to take on someone with less experience to fill in on a short term basis. This way, you can gain some experience in the field.

Another way to go would be to go for a paralegal course and certificate so that you can show up at the door of an attorney's office with training in hand.

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