Paralegal or Legal Assistant
Believe it or not, it is possible to work in the criminal justice field and have attorney-like job duties without a graduate degree. Paralegals or legal assistants are very important to attorneys because they assist with many of their job functions. Continue reading to learn more about the paralegal and legal assistant occupation.
Is Being A Paralegal or Legal Assistant for Me?
If you are the type of person who is highly organized, enjoys doing research and interviewing potential witnesses, you may be interested in a career in criminal justice. If you have ever wanted to work in the legal field but didn't want to go through many years of educational programs to get there, working as a paralegal or legal assistant may be a good fit for you.
Paralegals are trained to handle important legal work, such as preparing legal arguments and documents for corporate meetings, hearings, trials and closings. As a paralegal, you would also assist attorneys by conducting investigations to find facts on particular cases, research laws that pertain to relevant cases, and prepare motions and affidavits that help attorneys prepare for their day in court. Since paralegals are not actual attorneys, they are prohibited from giving legal consultation, setting legal fees, representing clients, or presenting cases in court.
A degree or certificate in paralegal studies will allow you to enjoy a career as a paralegal or a legal assistant. Well-trained paralegals are in constant demand by law firms, since many duties once assigned to lawyers are now performed by paralegals. The downsizing of legal institutions actually works to the advantage of qualified paralegals. Job opportunities can be found in small law offices, larger legal corporations and even corporate businesses. The government uses paralegals as well, in the courthouses and for government law departments.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of paralegals and legal assistants is expected to increase 17% between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than the average for all occupations (www.bls.gov). As reported by the BLS, paralegals and legal assistants earned a median annual wage of $47,570 in May 2013 (www.bls.gov).
How Can I Become a Paralegal or Legal Assistant?
If you want to become a paralegal or legal assistant, there are a couple of ways to pursue this occupation. You can obtain a legal assistant's associate degree, or if you already have a bachelor's degree, you can earn a paralegal studies certificate. Both associate degrees and certificates in a paralegal program can be earned through a community college or junior college educational program. Many paralegal certificate programs may require you to take classes in legal research and the legal application of computers. Some colleges and universities offer a paralegal bachelor's degree program and master's degrees in paralegal, and a few employers may decide to provide on-the-job training.
Though it's voluntary in most states, you can obtain certification through The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). You must meet various requirements set forth by the NALA and satisfactorily complete and pass a two-day examination in order to become a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or a Certified Paralegal (CP).