Law school isn't for everybody. Admissions are competitive, tuition is very high, and the job market for new lawyers is brutal. If you have a passion for the law, but not law school, it may make better sense to seek out a legal assistant or paralegal program. The following article looks at the advantages and disadvantages of legal assistant programs.
A Growing Industry
New legal assistant and paralegal opportunities arise every day. In addition to the traditional role as assistant to an attorney, leadership and management roles for legal assistants and paralegals are increasingly common.
In addition to the enhanced prestige available for those working as a legal assistant, there are financial considerations that make these roles highly attractive. While someone seeking to be an attorney will need to complete both an undergraduate degree and a law degree, typically spending more than a hundred thousand dollars and at least seven years in the process, paralegals and legal assistants can take a course that lasts from just a couple months to a year and begin working immediately.
Furthermore, an increase in the number of law schools and the number of new attorneys admitted every year have depressed lawyer salaries. The earning potential of legal assistants and paralegals, on the other hand, has increased significantly. A skilled and experienced paralegal or legal assistant can earn more than a starting attorney.
Becoming a Legal Assistant
There are no formal requirements to work as a legal assistant. There are, however, some experiences and certifications that can help make you more employable. At minimum, a high school diploma or GED will establish that you have the basic skills necessary to handle client documents. An undergraduate degree in paralegal studies or a related course of study can show that you have the basic necessary skills.
Paralegals should be highly organized, familiar with the technology used by law offices, and have excellent communication skills. These abilities can be developed through work experience, but there are also paralegal certification programs available to help you develop the necessary skills and receive the certification that will that typically require a certain amount of experience and study in order to qualify to take an exam.
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers certifications for Certified Legal Assistants (CLA) and Certified Paralegals (CP). The organization also offers an Advanced Certified Paralegal designation for those who have completed the training and testing requirements.
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) offers a Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam.
Additional paralegal certifications may be provided at local colleges, by the state bar association, or by other local organizations. The value of a given certification depends largely on its reputation in the region and within the industry. A clear notion about your intended career can help you tailor your certification to meet your employer's expectations.
Making Informed Choices
At every step in your legal career you'll face difficult decisions. Many paralegals and legal assistants make the decision to go on to law school and become an attorney. Return to FindLaw's Law Students section frequently for more articles about exams, the bar, repaying student loans, and more to help ensure that you make informed choices.