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. Alternatively, you could earn a paralegal associate degree and create a lifetime career for yourself.
A paralegal associate degree program will enable you to understand the roles and responsibilities of the paralegal profession by teaching you how to gather and analyze detailed information. A good program will also connect you with hands-on experience opportunities, such as internships and attending court hearings, so you are fully prepared to be a paralegal upon graduating.
Before deciding whether being a paralegal is your dream job, you will need to know the ins and outs of what being a paralegal entails. Keep reading to discover details like what a paralegal does, how you can use a paralegal associate degree, the best places for paralegals to work, and how to become a paralegal.
What Is a Paralegal?
People often use the terms paralegal and legal assistant interchangeably, referring to 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 is more marketable to hold a paralegal associate degree. This degree makes even more of a difference in less populated, non-metro areas where job demand is lower and competition is higher.
What Can You Do With a Paralegal Associate Degree?
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 protocols to follow regarding 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 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 and visa applications, along with 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.
Paralegal Entry-Level Jobs
After completing schooling and internships, paralegal students can apply for a range of positions at the places of employment mentioned above. Finding a job as a paralegal follows the usual process of submitting resumes, writing cover letters, attending interviews, and responding to ads. During this process, you will need to make the most of your school’s career placement services to find opportunities.
Using your connections will help you secure an entry-level paralegal job that will have you assisting a lawyer directly. In this way, starting a career as a paralegal presents opportunities for individuals who are passionate about joining the legal field but cannot invest eight years or more to become a lawyer. It is 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, usually between six to eight years. Lawyers must also pass the bar exam and be professionally and legally licensed to practice law. Employers typically require paralegals to be certified or hold a paralegal associate degree. However, a two-year program is usually sufficient.
More specifically, you will need to complete the following to become a lawyer:
- Graduate: You will need to earn a degree — typically a Juris doctorate degree — from an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law school.
- Get approved by your state: You will have to pass a background screening by the state in which you intend to practice law.
- Pass the bar exam: You must pass the lawyer licensing test known as the bar exam to prove you are competent in the major areas of practice within your jurisdiction.
- Maintain your license: To keep your license to practice law, you will have to pay annual fees and participate in ongoing legal education requirements.
On the other hand, these are the steps you will need to follow to become a paralegal:
- Further your education: You will need to earn a degree or certificate in paralegal or legal studies from an accredited degree program.
- Find employment: After completing your program, you will need to get hired at a firm, corporation, or organization that offers on-the-job training.
- Apply for state certification: While most states do not require paralegal certification to work as a paralegal, some do. Even if your state does not require paralegal certification, some states have voluntary certification programs you can participate in, which will set you apart from other paralegal applicants.
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 is 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.
The Top 5 Best Cities for Paralegal Work
Location should not restrict your paralegal career, but certain cities can offer the best opportunities for your interests and skillset. Of course, there are multiple, diverse locations for paralegals to find employment. It is important to know where to start looking while you are still earning your degree.
The following five metropolitan areas are the best-paying cities for paralegals:
- San Jose: Out of all the major U.S. cities, San Jose is the top-paying city for paralegals to work. As a major technology hub of California’s Bay Area, San Jose is perfectly placed for paralegals hoping to work with big tech corporations or immigration services.
- Napa: Another notable California city, Napa offers paralegals plenty of high-paying opportunities. Located in the heart of California’s wine country, Napa provides paralegals with both great scenery and a sense of job security.
- Trenton: New Jersey’s capital city is situated in a place that is rich for finding well-paying paralegal work. As the central hub for the state’s politics, Trenton is a great place to be a paralegal applying for jobs.
- San Francisco: 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, which presents ample demand for paralegals.
- Washington D.C.: The U.S. Justice Department in D.C. is considered the largest employer of paralegals, which is not surprising considering the amount of lobbying and lawmaking that goes on in Capitol Hill. There is an abundance of opportunities for paralegals in D.C., and plenty of surrounding suburban areas offer more affordable living.
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 a required degree of education, unlike doctors or lawyers. However, few 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.
How do you get a paralegal associate 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. That said, 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 are 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 choice requires a serious time commitment. For adults who have a full-time job, attending classes every day is not always possible. Some schools offer night and weekend courses, but they are often limited. Attending only night and weekend classes also means a much slower progression toward a degree.
A Well-Rounded Paralegal Associate Degree Program
A well-rounded education paralegal program is the type of associate degree that will make the best impression on employers. We offer a paralegal degree program that covers all fundamental aspects of the law. Areas of study include:
- Civil litigation
- Family law
- Contract law
- Probate administration and estate planning
An Associate of Applied Science degree in Paralegal Studies is a very marketable degree for individuals who want to work as paralegals. 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.
What do you want to do in the next 70 weeks? To start, you could earn a paralegal associate degree at Vista College and completely change your future. Our AAS online degree program is a tremendous opportunity to earn an associate degree in paralegal studies. If you want to earn it as fast as possible, 70 weeks is all it takes.
Of course, you do not have to complete the program in 70 weeks if your schedule does not 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 our well-rounded degree program.
Learn More About the Paralegal Associate Degree Program at Vista College
If you are interested in taking the first steps toward your future as a paralegal, check out the paralegal associate degree program at Vista College. We offer in-depth classes taught by experienced instructors to equip you with the tools you need to succeed in real work environments. Our personalized career services will also help you build your resume, prep for interviews, and make connections.
To learn more about our paralegal associate degree program, request more information today.