How Can You Switch Careers into the Paralegal Field?

Are you working a job or industry that doesn’t inspire you? Perhaps you have always dreamed of working in the law field, but do not wish to become an attorney? If you answered yes, now may be the time to switch careers to become a paralegal. As paralegals can find work in a variety of fields, from corporate legal departments to government agencies, this job change may provide you with the right amount of diversity and challenge you are looking for at work.

Attorneys talking to each other

What do paralegals do?

The specific job responsibilities of paralegals vary depending on the organization or field, but the foundational job duties include supporting lawyers by conducting legal research, drafting documents and organizing case files. The job outlook for paralegals is also promising, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that there will be an 8 percent industry growth through 2024. Additionally, the average pay is $48,810, which ranges based on the company or field.

On a normal day, paralegals will operate as investigators to gather the facts of a case. They will also conduct research on any regulations, laws, information or old files that may impact certain clients’ cases. After gathering and arranging evidence and legal documentation to help prepare for cases, they will also write or summarize their reports for their supervising attorneys to prepare for trial.

They draft correspondence with clients, acquire affidavits and other formal statements that may be used in court, review trial transcripts and communicate with witnesses, lawyers and clients. Though most of the work is done within the office, they may travel outside of the office to speak with clients or attend court proceedings with their supervising attorneys. Essentially, paralegals are the people who keep law offices or legal teams running smoothly throughout the pre-trial, trial or non-trial process.

What skills do I need to have to become a paralegal?

A drive to succeed is an essential quality to possess if you hope to enter into the highly competitive law industry. Additional skills will vary depending on the specific area of law in which you hope to work. For example, knowing another language may be more important in immigration law than it would be in marriage and family law. Therefore, it is important to know your focus area well before pursuing a certificate or degree.

Aside from needing specific skills depending on the field, there are a few universal qualities anyone entering into the industry must possess. First, communication skills are essential. Not only must paralegals be able to write, document and present their information to their supervising attorney, but they must also be able to communicate with their coworkers and clients effectively. Next, as most law firms use technology and computer software to handle their large caseloads, paralegals must have extensive computer experience.

During a normal day, many paralegals use software to catalog, review or search through numerous documents. While basic computer skills are a must, many paralegals must be able to use electronic database management solutions in order to search through electronic materials quickly, such as data, emails, accounting databases and messages.

Other necessary skills include organizational acumen and research savvy. Paralegals may have to juggle multiple cases at one time, which is why they must carefully organize every document or note in order not to lose track of them. They must also be excellent investigators and researchers in order to conduct thorough assessments. Finally, they must have superb interpersonal skills since they will spend the majority of their time working with clients and other professionals. They must be able to make these clients feel comfortable, along with develop lasting working relationships with their peers.

How can I become a paralegal?

Unlike people who wish to pursue a law degree to become an attorney, the path to becoming a paralegal is relatively flexible. While earning a degree or certification in paralegal or law studies is certainly the first option, depending on where you live, who you know or your prior experience, you may be able to find employment that provides on-the-job training which could allow you to secure a lower level job in the field and work your way up to a paralegal position.

The educational path is generally the most recommended one. However, your educational experience can vary greatly depending on your geographic location, employer requirements and area of law. While many people earn an associate’s degree in the field, a large majority of law firms prefer or even mandate that their successful applicants possess a bachelor’s degree.

The difficulty is that there are very few schools that offer bachelor’s or master’s degrees solely in the paralegal field, which is why many people hold a degree in another, similar subject area and then earn an additional certificate in paralegal studies. Many employers hire candidates who have completed nationally recognized paralegal certification programs. Some certification programs offer extensive training opportunities which means that those graduates may be more prepared to enter the workforce.

Perhaps you know you want to become a paralegal, but are unable to move cities or invest the time in an on-campus program. If you live in a more remote community or are already working as a paralegal, it may be difficult to drop everything and pursue a degree full time. Whether you are already working in the law field or have always dreamed of doing so, an online graduate program may be the perfect opportunity for you to pursue your long-term goals, while still working or being near friends and family.

Folders full of law cases

Those looking to make a career change should consider pursuing George Washington University’s online Master of Professional Studies in Paralegal Studies. As one of the few paralegal master’s degrees in the country, the program will equip you with the skills, experience and knowledge you need to succeed.

With a rigorous and practical curriculum that emphasizes technology use, written and oral communication, task management and law theory, this scholarly approach will fully support your career advancement in the legal field.


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