How to Become a Paralegal: 2024 Step-by-Step Guide

What Exactly Is a Paralegal?

Paralegals work behind the scenes to perform a variety of tasks to support and assist lawyers, often in the environment of a private law firm, corporate legal department, non-profit organization, or government agency.

Paralegal Job Description and Responsibilities

Communication is key for paralegals; it helps to be a strong writer, highly detail-oriented, and interested in the intricacies of law. It is also ideal that you work well with others, as paralegals typically operate as part of a larger legal team and interact with clients.

Job duties for paralegals vary, but can include assisting with trial preparation, drafting legal documents, organizing files, conducting legal research, performing clerical work, and communicating with clients. However, it is important to point out that paralegals are not licensed to practice law or give legal advice themselves.

Paralegal Job Benefits and Trends

Law offices are finding more and more ways to rely on paralegals, which keeps this career constantly in high demand.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for paralegals and legal assistants was $59,200 in May 2022. In metropolitan areas such as Washington, D.C. or New York, these figures are likely to be higher. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also expects employment of paralegals to grow 4% in the next decade, which is faster than the national average.

Other benefits for paralegals may include flexible schedules, insurance, profit sharing, tuition reimbursement, retirement accounts, and much more.


6 Steps to Becoming a Paralegal

#1: Complete Your Paralegal Education

The credentials required of paralegals are an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or post-degree certificates from a program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). Paralegals are poised to earn the most with more advanced education, but many career options are widely available with each of these levels of education.

The degree programs of Associate or Bachelor of Applied Business in Law & Paralegal Studies can open doors to new career opportunities in paralegal studies. Consider a fully online program to allow you to study alongside your current line of employment.

Do you already have an associate or bachelor’s degree in another field, and are looking to enter or advance your competitive standing in the paralegal field? Consider a post-associate or post-baccalaureate certificate program, which typically take one additional year of education.

#2: Determine the Types of Law You Might Specialize In

The world of law is vast. Would you be a better fit working in the environment of family law, corporate law, real estate, personal injury, or one of the many other areas of law? Figuring out which specialty you’re interested in can help you understand how to tailor your education, as well as where to apply after earning your paralegal certification.

#3: Meet State-Level Paralegal Requirements

It is important to understand and work within the nuances of the law of the state or states where you hope to work as a paralegal. Be sure to confirm the paralegal job requirements for the state of each law firm or company where you plan to work; the state may require additional exams, hours of paralegal experience, and/or certifications for its paralegals.

#4: Gain Practical Paralegal Experience

Before earning your first paralegal position, you may find it useful to gain practical experience as a volunteer, intern, or secretary within law offices. A strong paralegal studies program may help connect you to internships and other networking opportunities.

#5: Interview for a Paralegal Position

Congratulations, it’s time to begin a rewarding new career! After completing your paralegal degree program and following these remaining steps, you enter a world of opportunity. Will you work for a law firm, a corporation, a bank? Will you continue your education and/or earn a certificate to unlock new earning potential and job responsibilities? The possibilities are only beginning.

#6: Earn Professional Paralegal Certification

This step is optional, but recommended!

Did you know that you can earn several professional certifications after just one year of paralegal experience? This optional and voluntary process, which tends to include exams and eligibility requirements based on your education, can make your application stand out and help you qualify for more advanced roles within the field.

The most common options for these certifications are the industry standard CP exam (Certified Paralegal), the PP (Professional Paralegal), the PCCE (Paralegal CORE Competency Exam), and the AACP (American Alliance Certified Paralegal).


How to Choose a Paralegal Program

Paralegal programs equip students with knowledge of law, legal research, legal writing, and more. Instead of the broad and theoretical approach that you would encounter through law school, paralegal programs focus on functional and practical skills, such as drafting legal correspondence and assisting clients. Students who decide to pursue law school after their paralegal program are well prepared for that transition, as well.

Here are a few key factors to consider when choosing a paralegal program:

  • Is the program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA), to ensure that it meets the standards of today’s legal sector?
  • What is the program’s job placement rate?
  • Is the program offered online, to allow you to work alongside your other employment and life commitments?
  • Is there a clear pathway between associate degree programs and bachelor’s degree programs, should you decide to further your education?

UC Online’s Paralegal Programs

The University of Cincinnati Online offers excellent, American Bar Association-approved degree programs for future paralegals; depending on your personal education goals, consider the Associate of Applied Business (AAB) in Law & Paralegal Studies or the Bachelor of Science (BS) in Law & Paralegal Studies.

Both the AAB and BS degrees are fully online – no campus visits are required, which makes it possible for you to work alongside your degree and meet the other demands of your busy life. If you’re looking for even more flexibility, choose between part- and full-time scheduling to balance your obligations. Students in both programs receive support from the beginning of their educational journey to the end, including guidance for networking, and all classes are taught by licensed attorneys who know the field firsthand.

Not sure which paralegal studies degree program is right for you? Graduates from the associate program can seamlessly transition into the bachelor’s program.

If you already hold an associate or bachelor’s degree in another field, UC Online also offers post-degree certificates to help you transfer your skills to this exciting new field. Explore our Post-Associate or Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Law & Paralegal Studies to learn how you can prepare for a career as a paralegal in as little as one additional year of education.


Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Paralegal

What Is a Paralegal in Simple Terms?

Paralegals work behind the scenes to support lawyers with duties such as conducting research, assisting with client communication, or preparing for trial.

What Skills Are Essential for a Paralegal Position?

High attention to detail, strong communication skills, and the ability to juggle many tasks are useful as a paralegal.

How Much Do Paralegals Make per Hour in the US?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for paralegals and legal assistants was $28.46 per hour as of 2022.

Are There Benefits to Becoming a Paralegal before Law School?

Graduating with a degree in paralegal studies can set you up very well to enter law school, as graduates leave with practical skills, a strong legal vocabulary, an understanding of the application of law, and much more.

birds eye view of students working at a round table with laptops and study materials
Need additional student resources?
Already an online student? UC Online has additional tips and tricks to ensure you are on the path to success. Check out our Student Resources section for what you need to maximize your learning.
Corporate Taxation professionals having a meeting
Helping You Build a Better Business Through Continuing Education
Employee recruitment and retention is crucial for the growth and profitability of an organization and should be a high priority for every business. At the University of Cincinnati Online, we want to help develop and retain your employees through our Business Partnership offering.

Sign up for updates from UC Online

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.