The paralegal profession is an ever changing and growing career that has its share of excitement and satisfaction. Most paralegal jobs offer benefits and a decent salary, along with a steady job market that offers security to most paralegals. Once you have decided to become a paralegal, how do you get from point A to point B and actually land a good paralegal job? The answer lies in the type of paralegal you wish to be, your basic career goals, and the kind of organization you wish to work for, whether a law firm, government office, etc. Once those decisions are made, it’s a matter of getting the right education to meet your career goals..
It’s a good idea to do online research regarding the different types of paralegal jobs in your area and their job requirements. This will help you choose the type of education to acquire. For example, if a law firm requires all paralegals to have a four year degree and this is where you would like to eventually work, then a college that offers a bachelors program is the one for you. Realizing that different educational degrees as a paralegal will get you in different doors, it’s another good idea to look at these degrees and what they offer.
A paralegal certificate is usually earned on the fast track. Typically offered by a for profit college or a community college, the degree can be earned in eighteen months, sometimes in as little as twelve months. Evening courses and Saturdays are often required. The only courses taken are paralegal based and are akin to on the job training. Having a paralegal certificate can get you hired at many small and mid sized firms. The larger firms may hire you, but it may be a long time before you move up the ranks. Experience plus a paralegal certificate can help you move up the chain faster.
The associate’s degree for a paralegal is offered usually by a local community college and is a two year degree. This degree, along with the general paralegal and law courses will also require classes like Humanities and algebra. New paralegals with an associate’s degree can comfortably apply at most small and mid sized firms, government agencies and more, and should expect to see a reasonable salary offer.
Many universities in the U.S. now offer a bachelors degree in paralegal studies. For paralegals wishing to work in one of the many legal specialties like environmental law, choosing the bachelors degree certainly has its advantages. There is plenty of room in the schedule for specialized courses which become an added selling point to the employer when applying for a special position. Having a bachelor’s degree can allow you to apply almost anywhere!
Although not as common, many universities are now offering Master’s degrees in paralegal studies. At this point in an education path, most of the courses taken are narrowly focused on specialties, local laws, and intense legal writing. For many paralegals, the next logical step for a paralegal after receiving a bachelor’s degree would be to go on to law school. However, many paralegals don’t want to be a lawyer, so the advantage of having this degree is in the fact that it may earn you a higher salary, promotion, or more specialized job opportunities. A Master’s degree would be looked upon highly by many of the top law firms in the nation.
Finally, after you have chosen the degree that matches your career goals, take time to look carefully at the institution you choose as well. The class schedules, teachers, location and more can all play a part in the program you eventually choose. Making a wise education choice now can set the stage for a great career as a paralegal.