The American Bar Association defines a paralegal as a “person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible." There are many duties a paralegal performs: assisting attorneys with research; maintaining client files; searching and checking public records; interviewing clients, witnesses and others; identifying precedent, examining prior judicial decisions, and reading articles that reference the laws pertaining to a case; and preparing legal documents and arguments.
Certificate in Legal Paralegal Programs
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Paralegals do a broad range of work; however, they cannot offer legal services to clients. As you can see, paralegals have an important role and one way to start down that path is to work on obtaining a paralegal certificate.
Where can I get a Paralegal Certificate?
A paralegal certificate is a certificate offered by various legal organizations; such as, the National Association of Legal Assistants; American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.; and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. They all have different criteria to obtain a paralegal certificate from their organization. Even though a paralegal certificate is not a mandatory requirement, obtaining one has its advantages. It shows that you have a mastery of the skills and knowledge to work as a paralegal, you continue to seek education to fulfill recertification requirements, and you have an edge when it comes to getting hired by a law firm.
What do I have to do to get a Paralegal Certificate?
Each organization’s requirements for a paralegal certificate have some similarities. They include having a degree: high school, an associate degree, or bachelor’s degree. Depending on your degree, you must have a certain number of years of experience in the field, and/or a certain number of hours completed in legal education to qualify for a paralegal certificate. Finally, most organizations require you to pass some type of examination. There are requirements for recertification to keep your paralegal certificate. They generally include renewing your certification status and continuing your legal education by completing a certain number of hours. The criteria for each organization are slightly different to maintain your paralegal certificate.
What Education and Training do I need to get a Paralegal Certificate?
There are a few educational routes a person can take to fulfill education requirements for a paralegal certificate. The most common route is entering a community college, that offers a paralegal education program, and earning an associate degree. Another way is to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program at a four-year college. There are many schools that now offer this degree. If you already have a bachelor’s degree then entering a certificate program is another option. Completion of this type of program earns the student a baccalaureate degree. When choosing a program you should take note if the program is an approved ABA program. While not necessarily a mandatory requirement, most law firms look favorably on a person completing a paralegal certificate program that is ABA approved. You can find these approved programs from the American Bar Association. Researching and evaluating paralegal education programs are important. You should check if the program is ABA approved. Check what types of services are available: financial aid, tutoring, academic counseling, career guidance, internship help, and job placement. Also, look into the school’s facilities and make sure they are adequate. You should look over the list of classes and make they include the correct classes; such as, legal research and writing, litigation, ethics, contracts, business organizations, and torts. Find out what other course requirements are needed to achieve your degree. Do you have to take other general courses? If you are in a four-year university, chances are you probably do. Lastly, you should see if the program is offered online.
How much can I earn?
According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is an expected job growth for paralegals. Most of the jobs will be with private law firms. The federal government also hires a big percentage of the paralegals not working for a private law firm. The salaries for paralegals vary greatly. Education, experience, type and size of the employer, and location all factor into the salary. Having a paralegal certificate helps you because it shows you have the education, expertise, knowledge, and experience. The BLS stated that the median salary was $46,120, and the top earners made more than $73,450. Generally, most reports state that having a paralegal certificate does increase your salary and likelihood for raises.