What can you accomplish in 70 weeks?
You could learn conversational Spanish or French. You could tour the entire fifty states of the U.S. You could probably eat at every single restaurant in Midtown Manhattan.
Or you could earn a paralegal associate degree and create a lifetime career for yourself.
What Is a Paralegal?
The terms paralegal and legal assistant are used interchangeably. The terms refer to those individuals who officially and professionally assist attorneys or legal departments. A large percentage of paralegals employed directly by law firms and private attorneys are required to hold a degree in paralegal studies, legal studies, or post-baccalaureate paralegal certification.
While some law firms and corporations may consider hiring individuals with a non-legal bachelor’s degree, it’s more marketable to hold a paralegal associate degree. This is especially true in less populated, non-metro areas where job demand is lower and competition is higher.
Paralegal Job Outlook: The Types of Paralegal Work
The general role of a paralegal is to prepare legal documents and perform research. However, each paralegal position can go far beyond these duties. Depending on the area of specialization, type of legal services, and type of law firm and corporation, a paralegal’s job can be very different from one job to the next.
There are many types of legal services, law firms, and opportunities for paralegals. Paralegals can fulfill a number of different roles:
Corporate paralegal — This type of paralegal may require a broad knowledge of various legal areas including finance and bankruptcy, business litigation, and real estate. Corporate legal departments will typically have additional regulations and protocol to follow in respect to a paralegal’s responsibilities. A corporate paralegal may be required to attend meetings, log board minutes, draft documents, and draw up corporate resolutions.
Litigation paralegal — A litigation paralegal must have outstanding communication skills. Their type of work requires constant interaction with clients, witnesses, court officials, and department heads. They often serve as the liaison. Drafting court documents, pleadings, motions, and briefs are all responsibilities of a litigation paralegal.
Family law — Family law paralegals often work with couples filing for divorce or mothers seeking child support. They can also provide other civil and family legal assistance. A family law paralegal may prepare divorce documents, correspondence, and legal notifications among other assigned duties.
Civil litigation — Civil litigation paralegal duties are similar to general litigation paralegals. However, civil law procedures that differ from criminal law can actually impact paralegal duties. Civil litigation paralegals may be involved with court proceedings and preparations.
Estate and probate administration — This type of paralegal work includes assisting with estate trustees when someone dies. The paralegal wills the remaining assets to the living. Carrying out the instructions of a will can partially fall upon a paralegal and attorney. They may also prepare documents for court probate appearances, taxes, and trusts.
Labor law – Labor law paralegals work with employees and employers to assist with work practices. They also defend against unfair labor practices, and work with union leaders and others involved in employment and labor practices. Duties often include handling time sensitive documents and working under pressure. A labor law paralegal may handle strikes or salary negotiations.
Immigration law — Immigration law may involve immigration, green card, or temporary visa applicants. An immigration paralegal is responsible for assisting with green card/visa applications and immigration status documents. Immigration cases can often last for several years.
The various types of legal services reach far beyond this list. Paralegal opportunities are just as diverse as the law itself.
The paralegal career outlook is promising, as the types of employers are equally varied and numerous. A paralegal can be hired under various employment agencies or entities. These include:
- Consumer agencies and organizations, such as the BBB
- Corporate legal departments
- County, state, or federal prosecutors
- Private law firms
- Insurance companies
- Real estate agencies
- Legal services, such as public defenders or legal aid
- Local and state government
The list goes on and on. A certified paralegal has countless options for employment and career choices. The career presents opportunities for individuals who are passionate about joining the legal field, but can’t invest eight years or more to become a lawyer. It’s the next best thing to being a lawyer. It could even open the door for exactly that opportunity.
Paralegal vs. Lawyer
The differences between a paralegal and a lawyer are similar to the differences between a nurse and a doctor. A lawyer must attend school for much longer. Lawyers must also pass the bar exam and be professionally- and legally-licensed to practice law. Many lawyers attend school for six to eight years. Employers typically require paralegals to be certified or hold a paralegal associate degree. However, a two-year program is usually sufficient.
While lawyers can practice privately, paralegals must operate under the supervision of a legal department, law firm, private attorney, or some type of legal service. They cannot offer legal advice, cross examine witnesses in court, conduct depositions, or sign pleadings and other court documents. However, both lawyers and paralegals may perform legal research, file motions, draft legal documents, interview witnesses, provide estate planning, write legal briefs, and draw up contracts.
A paralegal is much like a lawyer’s right-hand man or woman. Most lawyers rely heavily on their paralegals to assist them with cases, research, and workload. It’s common for a paralegal to work closely with the lawyers and attorneys who employ them. While a paralegal provides invaluable assistance and organizational aid, a lawyer ultimately takes all legal responsibility for the work done.
As with any type of employment or career, salaries can vary greatly according to location, experience, time employed, demand, and supply. According to national statistics, the 2013 median pay for a paralegal was about $47,570. But those statistics vary with specialized paralegal fields, such as corporate and insurance paralegal work.
According to the same data, the absolute lowest reported wage for a paralegal was $30,000. However, most paralegals are paid significantly more — the highest reported salary was over $75,000. Corporate paralegals who become senior paralegals can potentially earn a six digit salary. Factors such as location play a big role in determining salary. A paralegal who works in New York City is going to earn more than a paralegal who works in rural Nebraska.
Of course, there are multiple, diverse locations for paralegals to find employment. It’s important to know where to start looking while you’re still earning your degree.
The Top Ten Best Cities for Paralegal Work
Location shouldn’t restrict your paralegal career, but certain cities can offer the best opportunities for your interests and skillset.
1. New York
This is pretty obvious due to its population and enormous business activity. Roughly one in every 800 people in New York City is a paralegal. This is a shockingly high number. Chances are, if you have a Paralegal Associate’s degree and a successful internship, New York may be a wise choice for your paralegal career. Consider all of the Wall Street companies, businesses, and corporations in Manhattan that need legal representation. There are also thousands of law firms in New York. Many firms hire paralegals simultaneously.
2. San Francisco
One in every one thousand people is a paralegal in San Francisco. The average paralegal salary is $70,000 and the average wage is $30 an hour. This is more than twenty thousand over the national average. The reason for the high paralegal employment rate in San Francisco is partially attributed to the ever-growing Silicon Valley tech businesses. All of these businesses need legal representation.
3. Los Angeles
This isn’t a surprise due to its metro size, population, and thriving industry. The entirety of Hollywood needs legal representation, not to mention film and production companies. One in every five hundred people in L.A. is a paralegal. The average salary is $60,000.
Boston is considered the fourth best city in the U.S. for paralegal employment. Roughly one in every nine hundred people is employed as a paralegal. The cost of living in Boston is not nearly as high as many other large cities. The average salary for a Boston paralegal is about $50,000.
As the third largest city in the U.S., Chicago has its own financial and technology sector which demands plenty of legal services and paralegals. The Chicago areas of Joliet and Naperville are ranked as the second in the nation for highest employment — making it an even more attractive city for paralegal work. The average pay for paralegals in Chicago is $53,000 or $25 an hour.
6. Washington D.C.
The U.S. Justice Department in D.C. is considered the largest employer of paralegals. This doesn’t come as a big surprise considering the amount of lobbying and lawmaking that goes on in Capitol Hill. There’s an abundance of opportunities for paralegals in D.C. Plenty of surrounding suburban areas offer more affordable living. About thirty thousand paralegal jobs are estimated to exist in D.C. The average annual salary for a D.C. paralegal is $64,000 — this is at least eighteen thousand more than the average.
7. Flint, Michigan
This Michigan city is about an hour away from Detroit. However, there are many paralegal opportunities. The average annual salary is $64,000, which is much higher than average.
8. Durham, NC
The Research Triangle consists of Duke University, North Carolina and North Carolina State Universities. This triangle leads to a large amount of paralegal work opportunities in Durham.
Denver is one of the most pleasant cities in the U.S. — it is also one of the fastest growing. Over the past five years, paralegal opportunities have grown far more than other cities can boast. Most paralegals work in legal services and government. The average paralegal salary in Denver is $50,000.
Dallas is front and center of Texan industry and business, oil corporations, cattle farming, and many other entities. The population is dense, which means more people are in demand of labor, civil, or family law services. The several surrounding noteworthy areas like Arlington, Fort Worth, and even Oklahoma City or Austin make the potential for paralegal work limitless.
How to Become a Paralegal
The steps to becoming a paralegal vary depending on location and employment. One paralegal may help draft documents and write correspondence, while another paralegal could be involved with court processes, preparing witnesses, interviewing clients, and so forth.
Technically speaking, paralegals do not have an actual required degree of education unlike doctors or lawyers. However, next to zero companies or law firms will hire an individual with no experience or education in paralegal studies. Most law firms and paralegal employers prefer individuals who have a paralegal education.
So how do you get a paralegal associate’s degree? Trade schools are one option. Most trade schools that offer certification in programs like massage therapy and medical assistance also offer paralegal studies certification. But most trade schools require daily class attendance. Many offer no financial aid. Trade schools are also not highly regarded by a lot of employers, because they’re not accredited. They may not be the most convenient or wisest way to obtain a paralegal certification.
Attending a college campus is another option. This requires a serious time commitment. For adults who have a fulltime job, attending classes every day isn’t always possible. Some schools offer night and weekend courses, but they are often limited. Attending only nights and weekends classes also means much slower progression toward a degree.
A Well-Rounded Paralegal Associate’s Degree Program
A well-rounded education paralegal program is the type of associate’s degree that will make the best impression on employers. Vista College offers a paralegal degree program which covers all fundamental aspects of the law. Areas of study include:
An Associate of Applied Science degree in Paralegal Studies is a very marketable degree for individuals who want to work as a paralegal. Most law firms’ corporate legal departments require this level of education. It will also give you an advantage over those who have unrelated bachelor’s degrees. If a potential employer is comparing two candidates for a paralegal position, the vast majority of employers will choose the candidate with legal service education or experience. This will be the candidate they do not have to train on the job: the one with a paralegal associate’s degree.
So what do you want to do in the next 70 weeks? To start, you could earn a paralegal associate’s degree at Vista College and completely change your future. The Vista College AAS online degree program is a tremendous opportunity to earn an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. If you want to earn it as fast as possible, 70 weeks is all it takes.
Of course, you don’t have to complete the program in 70 weeks if your schedule doesn’t allow it – you can take up to 105 weeks to finish the program. Regardless of your age, location, or reason for enrolling, you can shape your own paralegal career in a well-rounded degree program. Start working towards your paralegal associate’s degree by visiting Vista College online now.