How to Become a Paralegal

The choice to become a paralegal is often based on the desire to work in the legal field without having to become an actual lawyer. Paralegals or legal secretaries assist attorneys with conducting legal research, handling legal forms, and processing the various reports and required paperwork filings as they relate to court trials and hearings, real estate closings, financial reporting and other legal matters. Becoming a paralegal requires a strong background and education in the legal field and the willingness to work on challenging cases.

Evaluate Your Skills to Become a Paralegal

To become a paralegal, you must have strong interests in the legal field and in working alongside attorneys, real estate agents and/or bankers. You will also need to have the ability to work effectively on multiple tasks and with many different types of people, particularly those that are difficult. Paralegals must continually be learning about changes in the laws and the general legal process to be successful.

Select an Area of Paralegal Interest

Before choosing to become a paralegal, it's wise to consider the different areas in which paralegals work so that you find one that best fits your skills and interests. Paralegals may work for small private practices that focus on certain areas of the law, or they may work for large legal firms that handle many different cases. Many other paralegals perform work for social service agencies that provide free or low-cost legal services for certain protected groups of the community. Before investing in an education, select an area you are most interested in and focus on that as your paralegal career.

Achieve the Educational Requirements to Become a Paralegal

In most regions, in order to become a paralegal, initially you will be required to take formal classes to get certified as a professional paralegal. This can be accomplished through a local school or through an online program. In addition to getting the training in paralegal skills, you will most likely need to attend a college or university and earn a four-year degree in addition to your paralegal certification. Depending on the type of legal field you get into, you may also be required to test to get licensed to practice as a paralegal professional.

Consider the Average Work Duties of Paralegals

On average, a paralegal can expect to work long hours conducting research and handling case files for upcoming civil or criminal court cases and hearings. In the absence of legal transcriptionists, many paralegals are also expected to accurately transfer and interpret written and spoken notes from attorneys onto written reports and forms that are used to build files and process legal forms at court administrative offices. Paralegals also often talk with clients to gather information, schedule appointments and give limited legal advice when needed.

Brush Up on Your Interpersonal, Office and Research Skills

The best paralegals have strong interpersonal, office and research skills to become great at this challenging career. In order to improve your chances of becoming a paralegal, develop these skills early on through practice and perseverance. Learn how to speak with people and get the information you need professionally yet efficiently. Be detail oriented and make sure you have impeccable grammar and writing skills. Get a mentor in the paralegal field to guide you through the tough times and to celebrate with as you reach new milestones as a paralegal.