If you have an interest in learning how to become a paralegal, it is first important to define the profession. A paralegal is an individual who works under the supervision of a licensed attorney and does a lot of the same tasks that a licensed attorney may do.
While a paralegal may perform a lot of legal tasks such as research, citations, interviewing clients, it must be made clear that a paralegal is restricted from performing certain tasks reserved for licensed attorneys; for example, a paralegal may not give clients legal advice nor can he or she present cases in a courtroom.
Paralegals often work at law firms of varying sizes, but there are also many paralegals who work at large corporations, governmental agencies, and non-profit organizations.
While all professional paralegals have carved their own path to achieving their position, there are two main ways to become a paralegal. The first way is to obtain an entry level position at a law firm or organization and work your way up. The second way is to graduate from a paralegal training program and obtain an entry-level position at a law firm or company.
Many paralegals have begun their career as a legal secretary or administrative assistant and worked their way up. This route can be long and is certainly not guaranteed, but has worked for many successful paralegals. If you are unsure about committing to the paralegal profession, then spending some time in a law firm, even in a different capacity, will give you first-hand experience in working in the legal field and may help you to decided if you should pursue the career further.
While it is possible to work your way up from another position, many attorneys will prefer that you obtain some paralegal education, so your employer may decide to pay for your training program. Other would-be paralegals have taken the initiative and chosen to attend school while still working, either to get promoted within their organization or to look for a paralegal position elsewhere.
Another way to become a paralegal is to graduate from a paralegal training program and obtain an entry-level paralegal position. There are many different types of paralegal training programs available that vary in length and price. There is community or junior colleges, vocational schools, 4-year universities, and even online programs that offer paralegal or legal studies as an option.
The type of program you choose will depend on how much time you have to devote to studies and the level of education you would like to attain. For instance, if you would like to earn an Associate Degree along with a paralegal certificate, then you might consider a junior college. Earning your Associate degree will often take longer than just earning your certificate because you will need to take general education classes outside of your area of legal studies. If you would like to earn a paralegal certificate simply, then a vocational or online school may be your best choice.
While you may meet other paralegals who have entered into their profession through different means, the two ways described above are the most common ways to become a paralegal.