Career Information:
Certification and Employment as a Paralegal

Many high school graduates have an interest in legal matters, and they would like to be involved in some kind of law-related career. A university degree in law, however, involves a great deal of time and money, and not everyone is inclined to follow that route. But there are other ways of being involved. Many students have found that the answer for them is to embark on a program that will lead to certification and employment as a paralegal or legal assistant.

Students should be aware, however, that attaining certification as a paralegal is no simple matter. Considerable formal education is required, and although some routes to certification do not require a university degree, it is usually recommended that a bachelor's or even a master's degree in a supportive area be first obtained. The certificate program for paralegals can then follow. In this course, students will have the opportunity to learn the required legal-based information and the appropriate skills that will equip them for their future career.

The paralegal certificate course is quite clearly defined in terms of what must be included. Any such course, first of all, must be approved by the American Bar Association if it is to lead to an acceptable certificate. The ABA will not give approval unless the program contains the essential elements it considers to be mandatory. Business, family, and criminal law, for example, must be an integral part of the program, and students must have the opportunity to acquire some in-depth knowledge about civil procedures, bankruptcy, and real estate.

Ideally, students in the paralegal certificate program will have already developed some strong research skills during their degree program. Research is an important part of their future career, and it is essential that they develop skills in this area to the greatest extent possible.

Upon completion of the legal assistant program, students are required to pass the examinations set by the ABA before they can be awarded the status of Certified Legal Assistant. This examination will test a student's knowledge of legal ethics as well as other aspects of the paralegal program.

Paralegals are not lawyers, and it should be expected that their role in legal matters is limited. Their function is essentially to assist with the delivery of legal services under the supervision of an attorney. They can do this by taking responsibility for many of the required tasks and duties that are involved in providing legal service to clients. Paralegals can conduct client interviews, for example, and they can complete surveys and investigations on behalf of the supervising lawyer. They may also be required to attend hearings and trials to provide the relevant records or to keep notes and summaries in proper order.

Although paralegals cannot represent clients, give legal advice, or set legal fees, their role is indispensable to the smooth operation of a law office. There are currently more than 100,000 paralegals in the United States, and lawyers and attorneys depend upon them to assist with their day-to-day legal operation. This is an honorable career, and students who are interested in legal matters while not wishing to pursue a law degree should be given every encouragement to enroll in the paralegal certificate program.

Information is for educational and informational purposes only and is not be interpreted as financial or legal advice. This does not represent a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any security. Please consult your financial advisor.