- Most paralegals (which are also commonly known as legal assistants) obtain associate’s degrees through community colleges. Most law firms and government agencies find this type of certification to be sufficient.
- A minority of paralegals obtain bachelor’s degrees through traditional four-year institutions.
- Aspiring paralegals who already hold associate’s or bachelor’s degrees in related fields may choose to attend accelerated paralegal programs at community colleges or vocational schools.
- Very few law firms hire individuals who lack educational credentials or prior work experience.
What you study:
Paralegals must be well-versed in the following subjects and concepts:
- Basic jurisprudence
- English writing and grammar
- Research skills
- Legal vocabulary
What courses you’ll take
Below are examples of courses that you’ll likely take as a paralegal or legal assistant student.
|About the Legal Profession and Legal Ethics||Structure and operations of the US legal system. Cover procedures of law how decisions are made the role of legal assistants legal ethics and other related topics. Ethics topics include issues specific to legal assistants and possible solutions.||Provide students with the context and background of the US legal system that will serve as a foundation for more advanced studies.|
|Writing and Communication||Writing strategies and practices as related to legal communications. Group communications and public speaking.||Develop the rhetorical writing and oral communication skills that are critical to tasks such as drafting correspondence and other documents communicating with clients and supporting inhouse meetings.|
|Law Office Technology||Basic primer on office equipment used by legal assistants with hands-on training. Using information technology systems and applications to prepare legal documents work with client databases create presentations and to handle other related tasks.||Build proficiency in the use of the office equipment and information technology that legal assistants need to complete their day-to-day tasks.|
|Business Law||Basic structures of sole proprietorships partnerships C-corporations S-Corporations and limited-liability companies (LLCs). Often includes a review of real life examples dealing with business legal questions.||Prepare students for business law assignments. For example you might use your business law knowledge to review and classify documents such as financial statements.|
|Contract Law||How to put together binding legal agreements including key structural elements of different types of contracts how to make them effective and methods for enforcement.||Ready students for contract law assignments. You might for instance use your contract knowledge to research related case law as part of a client’s contractual dispute your law firm is taking on.|
|Intellectual Property (IP) Law||Basic IP concepts such as trademarks patents trade secrets and copyrights.||Provide the knowledge needed to effectively assist attorneys as they work with clients on IP related issues. You might for instance assist in research as part of a patent violation case.|
|Family Law||Basics of family law including child custody adoption proceedings paternity suites and surrogacy rights.||Give students the background needed to take on family law projects.|
|Criminal Law||Differing types of criminal intent and the purpose of criminal law. Criminal law procedures and the potential defenses against criminal charges.||Prepare students to assist lawyers taking on criminal cases. You might for instance support your lawyer during a criminal trial.|
Briefly summarizes the work of legal assistants and paralegals. Produced for the US Department of Labor.
Certifications and Licensing
Although there are no state-mandated licenses for those who wish to become paralegals there are several popular voluntary certification programs. Two of the most well known ones are:
National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA): NALA has offered a Certifiec Legal Assistant (CLA) program since 1976. This is a voluntary program and more than 17000 people have achieved the CLA certification and 3000 have achieved an advanced level of certification. In 1982 NALA first offered its CLA spcialty program and it was in 2002 that this was modified to become the Advanced Paralegal Certification Progeam.
Many different specializations are offered including Contracts Administration Social Security Trademarks Personal Injury Criminal Litigation Bankruptcy and many others. There are 15 different specializations. You can read about each of these in more detail here.
National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA): The NFPA offers a Paralegal CORE Competency Exam ("PCCE") which is intended to certify for work in a number of areas of competency. People who have the PCCE and several years of experience can take the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam to get recognition for their more advanced status.
The NFPA offers a PDF document that shows the differences between the various certification programs available.
Legal assistants who successfully complete these programs may be more attractive in the eyes of prospective employers and command higher starting salaries. In addition they may be singled out for promotions and quickly rise through the non-lawyer ranks at large law firms. Finally these certifications may make their holders look more attractive on future law-school applications.
Full-time versus part-time:
The majority of paralegals work for medium-sized and large law firms on a full-time basis. Smaller law firms may hire temporary legal assistants during high-workload periods. A small minority of these individuals may work under in-house counsel teams at major corporations or for large government agencies. For the most part paralegals who do not work for law firms are also required to work at least 40 hours per week. During busy times of the year paralegals may be asked to work on the weekends and into the evenings.
Very few legal assistants are able to work from home. While certain specialists may be able to perform digital cataloging and research functions from home this is not practical for long periods of time. Paralegals must handle physical evidence and communicate with their colleagues in person. As such the vast majority work in regular office environments.
The following websites may be useful to those who wish to pursue a career as a legal assistant or paralegal:
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations — The National Federation of Paralegal Associations is an umbrella group that works to unite the activities of hundreds of local paralegal organizations across the United States. The site has a full suite of continuing-education resources career-related information and a comprehensive job-search feature.
- National Association of Legal Assistants & Paralegals — This organization provides aspiring paralegals with information about certification programs and exams. For trained paralegals who wish to obtain new skills or find employment the National Association of Legal Assistants & Paralegals offers a wealth of continuing-education information as well as a jobs board.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics — The U.S. Department of Labor maintains a comprehensive career fact sheet that outlines salary information and certification requirements for aspiring paralegals. This site also offers an analysis of the profession’s growth potential over the coming decade.
- Global Legal Resources — Global Legal Resources is a comprehensive online information database for lawyers and paralegals. Its paralegal-focused section provides detailed information about the job duties of legal assistants and provides links to educational and job-search resources.
- American Bar Association — The American Bar Association offers a wide range of paralegal-focused services including educational resources certification information and a career-outlook primer. It also has a job-search function that can connect employment-seeking legal assistants with ABA lawyers who wish to hire them.
Salaries by City
See typical salaries and ranges for this career below*. Shift click to sort by more than one column — for example first shift-click on state and then shift-click on salary to find best and worst salaries in each state.
|State||City / Region||Typical Salary||Salary Range||Job Count||% of All Jobs|
|AL||Anniston – Oxford||$23190||N/A||N/A|
|AL||Auburn – Opelika||$29990||30||0.07%|
|AL||Birmingham – Hoover||$49040||1190||0.24%|
|AR||Fayetteville – Springdale – Rogers||$38000||330||0.16%|
|AR||Little Rock – North Little Rock – Conway||$37010||670||0.20%|
|AZ||Phoenix – Mesa – Glendale||$46400||3920||0.23%|
|CA||Bakersfield – Delano||$45490||260||0.10%|
|CA||Los Angeles – Long Beach – Glendale (Metro Area)||$57500||8000||0.21%|
|CA||Oakland – Fremont – Hayward (Metro Area)||$61790||1470||0.15%|
|CA||Oxnard – Thousand Oaks – Ventura||$60660||480||0.17%|
|CA||Riverside – San Bernardino – Ontario||$51690||1750||0.15%|
|CA||Sacramento – Arden – Arcade – Roseville||$52950||1640||0.20%|
|CA||San Diego – Carlsbad – San Marcos||$54330||3630||0.29%|
|CA||San Francisco – San Mateo – Redwood City (Metro Area)||$67640||3080||0.31%|
|CA||San Jose – Sunnyvale – Santa Clara||$59740||N/A||N/A|
|CA||San Luis Obispo – Paso Robles||$64470||70||0.07%|
|CA||Santa Ana – Anaheim – Irvine (Metro Area)||$48090||3350||0.24%|
|CA||Santa Barbara – Santa Maria – Goleta||$57180||190||0.12%|
|CA||Santa Cruz – Watsonville||$48520||90||0.11%|
|CA||Santa Rosa – Petaluma||$52280||190||0.11%|
|CA||Vallejo – Fairfield||$42020||90||0.08%|
|CA||Visalia – Porterville||$42270||120||0.09%|
|CO||Denver – Aurora – Broomfield||$48070||4110||0.33%|
|CO||Fort Collins – Loveland||$41360||100||0.08%|
|CT||Bridgeport – Stamford – Norwalk||$56620||1080||0.26%|
|CT||Hartford – West Hartford – East Hartford||$49830||2110||0.38%|
|CT||Norwich – New London||$42370||140||0.11%|
|DC||Washington – Arlington – Alexandria (Metro Area)||$62480||10850||0.46%|
|DE||Wilmington (Metro Area)||$48640||1060||0.33%|
|FL||Cape Coral – Fort Myers||$37550||520||0.25%|
|FL||Crestview – Fort Walton Beach – Destin||$35530||190||0.26%|
|FL||Deltona – Daytona Beach – Ormond Beach||$35920||320||0.21%|
|FL||Fort Lauderdale – Pompano Beach – Deerfield Beach (Metro Area)||$42410||3670||0.51%|
|FL||Lakeland – Winter Haven||$38800||320||0.17%|
|FL||Miami – Miami Beach – Kendall (Metro Area)||$47940||3870||0.39%|
|FL||Naples – Marco Island||$44670||260||0.23%|
|FL||North Port – Bradenton – Sarasota||$44400||870||0.36%|
|FL||Orlando – Kissimmee – Sanford||$45170||2900||0.29%|
|FL||Palm Bay – Melbourne – Titusville||$40640||260||0.14%|
|FL||Panama City – Lynn Haven – Panama City Beach||$38750||80||0.11%|
|FL||Pensacola – Ferry Pass – Brent||$40520||390||0.26%|
|FL||Port St. Lucie||$50850||380||0.31%|
|FL||Sebastian – Vero Beach||$38810||80||0.19%|
|FL||Tampa – St. Petersburg – Clearwater||$42500||3800||0.34%|
|FL||West Palm Beach – Boca Raton – Boynton Beach (Metro Area)||$51620||2140||0.42%|
|GA||Athens – Clarke County||$38780||70||0.09%|
|GA||Atlanta – Sandy Springs – Marietta||$48770||$37890||250||0.12%|
|IA||Davenport – Moline – Rock Island||$40220||270||0.15%|
|IA||Des Moines – West Des Moines||$48970||830||0.26%|
|IA||Waterloo – Cedar Falls||$38910||130||0.15%|
|ID||Boise City – Nampa||$40510||480||0.18%|