Becoming a Certified Paralegal: Job Description & Salary Info

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A certified paralegal's minimum salary is about $30,000. Is this worth the education and training requirements? Learn the truth about the job duties, requirements and career outlook for this occupation to decide if becoming a certified paralegal is suitable for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Certified Paralegal

Certified paralegals, also called certified legal assistants, work closely with attorneys to provide administrative support. Following is a list of more pros and cons that can help you decide if becoming a certified paralegal is right for you:

Pros of Becoming a Certified Paralegal
Several specialties to choose from*
Decreased likelihood of work been outsourced overseas*
Increase in demand due to less costly to hire than lawyers*
Possibility of high earning potential (senior paralegals earned upwards of $90K annually as of 2015)**

Cons of Being a Certified Paralegal
May work past shift to meet deadlines*
Jobs may be limited due to a law firm's workload*
Usually required to manage a large volume of files***
May be required to travel to research and gather information*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com, ***Job Postings November 2012

Career Info

According to the BLS, the majority of paralegals work for law firms. However, many also work at corporate legal departments and government agencies. You can also specialize in a specific type of law as a paralegal. Among them include bankruptcy, corporate, civil litigation, family law, immigration and real estate. Some specific job duties you may have include assisting lawyers with preparing agreements, contracts and financial reports, and drafting correspondence for accountants, clients, limited liability companies and government agencies. You may also be responsible for filing court documents, performing initial client interviews and preparing clients for trial.

Some broader job duties you may have include maintaining files using electronic database management systems, conducting research at law libraries and performing investigations to gather facts about a case Your job duties will also vary depending on the size of the law firm or company you work for. For instance, you will generally perform a wide variety of tasks at a smaller organization. However, your duties may be limited to working on specific portions of a case at larger organizations.

Job Outlook and Salary

The BLS reported that from 2012-2022, employment was expected to grow by 17% for paralegals. This employment rate was about as fast as the average compared to other occupations. With more companies seeking to reduce costs, paralegals will be in demand to perform duties normally done by attorneys. The BLS also noted that since many paralegal tasks must be completed in person, the likelihood of international outsourcing is expected to be reduced. According to Payscale.com, the salary range for certified paralegals in general was about $30K-$68K, as of 2015.

Education and Certification Requirements

To become a paralegal, you must typically have an associate's degree in legal or paralegal studies. Another common qualification is to hold a bachelor's degree in an unrelated subject, and then to complete a short certificate program in paralegal studies. Master's degrees in paralegal studies are also available, though they are not typically required for legal assistant positions.

Several organizations that offer voluntary certification require that you meet certain education and/or work experience requirements. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers the Certified Paralegal (CP) or Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) credential, as well as the Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) designation. There are several ways in which you may become eligible for the CP/CLA exam. You can sit for the exam if you have a high school diploma, seven years of paralegal experience under the supervision of an American Bar Association (ABA) member and completion of at least 20 hours of continuing legal education training within the past two years. You may also qualify if you have a bachelor's degree in any field and one year of paralegal experience, an associate's degree in paralegal studies or completion of at least 60 credit hours of paralegal training through a program approved by the ABA. To obtain the ACP designation, you must have a current CP credential and pass an advanced certified paralegal course.

Another organization that offers certification for paralegals is the National Association of Legal Professionals (NALS). You must also meet one of several criteria to become eligible for the exam. Among them include possession of a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies, completion of an approved ABA paralegal training program and accumulation of at least five years of experience performing paralegal functions. Upon passing the certification exam, you will be awarded the Professional Paralegal (PP) credential.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Many job postings for certified paralegals are looking for those with litigation experience. Positions that consist of minimal responsibilities may require as little as one year of experience. However, some employers requested a minimum of five years of experience and a bachelor's degree for some litigation paralegal positions. Here is a list of postings that can help you understand what skills real employers were looking for during November of 2012:

  • An Ohio staffing agency is seeking a certified paralegal to perform duties such as taking minutes and reviewing documents. This candidate will be required to do some traveling throughout the state.
  • A law firm in Chicago, IL, wants to hire a litigation paralegal with experience in trial and concordance. The candidate must have a bachelor's degree, paralegal certification and at least five years of experience at a litigation law firm. The employer is offering $60K-$70K annually.
  • A Forth Worth, TX, staffing company is looking for a civil litigation paralegal with a certification or bachelor's degree in paralegal studies. The employer requests five years of litigation experience and experience in federal trial. Job duties include preparing deposition and trial exhibition notes, keeping track of a high-volume of documents and contacting persons to acquire information.
  • A major engineering company in Oklahoma City, OK, wants to hire an entry-level, certified paralegal/legal assistant who is able to obtain a government security clearance. The employer is looking for someone with a paralegal certificate and one year of experience in automated litigation support. The candidate must also have knowledge of legal citation systems, legal research tools and Microsoft Office applications.

How to Stand Out

Since becoming certified is already a means of standing out, you can improve your job prospects by joining a local paralegal association in your state. Many states have paralegal associations that are affiliated with national organizations such as the NALA and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). Some states also award certifications to those who pass a state-specific paralegal exam. The qualification requirements for taking a state paralegal exam usually include having current certification from a national organization, completing an approved paralegal program or having several years of work experience. Some of the benefits of joining a local organization include access to programs that may qualify as continuing legal education, job banks, newsletters, pro bono services and mentors. You also have the opportunity to network with other legal professional at social events.

Other Career Paths

Claims Investigator

If you enjoy conducting research to find out information, a career in insurance claims investigation may also be suitable for you. In this position, you will be responsible for investigating possible fraudulent or criminal activity. For instance, you may determine if a fire was a result of arson or if a person is seeking unnecessary medical treatment from a worker's compensation claim.

The minimum education necessary to work in this field is a high school diploma. However, you are likely to be a more favorable job candidate with a bachelor's degree and some relevant work experience. From 2010-2020, the BLS projected that employment will increase by just three percent for claims investigators, as well as claims adjusters, appraisers and examiners. As of May 2011, these professionals earned a median wage of approximately $59,000, according to the BLS.

Lawyer

If you have a passion for the legal field and want to take your career to the next level, then becoming a lawyer may be ideal for you. The standard requirements for becoming a lawyer usually include completing a bachelor's degree program, a 3-year Juris Doctor (J.D.) law program and passing the ABA exam for your designated state. During law school, you may complete courses dealing with contract, constitutional, civil and property law. There are also several fields of law that you may specialize in. Among them include criminal, corporate, family, litigation or tax law. As of May 2011, the BLS found that lawyers earned a median salary of about $113,000. The BLS also noted that lawyers were expected to have a 10% increase in jobs from 2010-2020.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Legal Studies
      • Master: Criminal Justice
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Legal Support and Services
      • BS - Legal Support and Services - Paralegal
      • Undergraduate in Legal Studies
      • Bachelor: Criminal Justice
    Associate's
      • AAS in Legal Support and Services
      • Associate: Criminal Justice
    Certificate
      • Postbaccalaureate Certificate - Pathway to Paralegal
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Legal Studies
      • B.A. - Criminal Justice
    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts - Paralegal
      • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Argosy University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor - Business Administration
  • Campus and Online Programs
    6. South University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Criminal Justice (BS)
    Associate's
      • Paralegal Studies (AS)
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis
  • Online Programs Available
    8. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Homeland Security and Crisis Management
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Forensic Science
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Baker College Online

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Criminal Justice - Bachelor
  • Campus Locations:
    10. CDI College

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Diploma in Paralegal
      • Diploma in Paralegal - JCA. 1F
      • Diploma in Legal Administrative Assistant
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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Legal Studies
  • BS - Legal Support and Services
  • AAS in Legal Support and Services
  • Postbaccalaureate Certificate - Pathway to Paralegal

Which subject are you interested in?

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Legal Studies
  • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Paralegal
  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Argosy University

  • Bachelor - Business Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

South University

  • Criminal Justice (BS)
  • Paralegal Studies (AS)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

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