There are a lot of factors to consider when pursuing a paralegal career. In this role you will be the right-hand assistant to lawyers and other legal professionals. The job requires certain skills and personality traits, paired with the right training and credentials. Ann Atkinson, advanced certified paralegal and past president of the National Association for Legal Assistants
(NALA), offered the following advice to aspiring paralegal professionals.
Hone Your Administrative Skills
Depending on the area of law in which you are employed (eg. litigation law, family law, etc.), your duties as a paralegal may vary. However, Atkinson said the position generally requires strong writing and administrative skills. “Being organized is key,” she added.
You will likely be responsible for drafting cover letters, legal documents, and other important writing projects. You also will be responsible for working with clients, and in many cases, you may be the first person a client interacts with when they contact the firm. Accordingly, being personable is a must.
Get Your Associate Degree
There are no education requirements for paralegals, but that doesn’t mean training and certifications are unnecessary. According to Atkinson, every business has its own set of standards for employees, and having higher credentials may set you apart from other candidates when applying for a job. If you are already employed, consider asking about tuition reimbursement programs for a traditional program or online school, as a paralegal associate degree could go a long way towards furthering your career path.
Earn Additional Credentials
Paralegal professionals can also earn their certified paralegal credential (CPL) through national organizations, like NALA. Individuals earn their certification by successfully completing the exam offered by the association. In addition to the basic certification exam, NALA also offers an advanced paralegal certification (APC
), which allows paralegals to specialize in a particular area of law.
While statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that employment for paralegals and legal assistants is expected to grow, Atkinson said the job market is still very competitive. Getting certified through a national organization (in addition to earning an associate’s degree, paralegal studies
) is critical in boosting your chances of getting hired.
Join an Association
When you earn your certification through NALA, you are granted a one-year membership to the organization. Being an active member of a paralegal organization allows you to participate in leadership training and continuing education seminars, as well as networking events where you can build important connections with others in the field. These opportunities for professional development will play a large role in your budding career.
Be Flexible in Your Job Search
Your search for a position as a paralegal should not be limited to law firms. The paralegal job market is fairly extensive. There are plenty of companies that employ paralegals as part of their internal legal departments. Insurance companies, banks and real estate agencies are just a few examples of ways to expand your paralegal career options. Be broad in your search for employment.