Some say that Americans sue each other too much, but whatever the reason, paralegals and legal assistants are likely to have impressive job security. These professionals are expected to be in high demand through at least 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Still, some jobs can offer better pay or benefits than others. The key to securing these positions is finding the right training. Here's how.
Paralegal & legal services programs in a nutshell
According to the BLS, most paralegal and legal services majors earn certificates or associate degrees, or have a bachelor's degree in another field with a certificate in paralegal studies. With the right training, even those with degrees in other fields can earn certificates through groups like The American Alliance of Paralegals or the National Association of Legal Assistants. Some even specialize in specific areas of law such as corporate, tax or property law.
While paralegal programs vary, all are designed to prepare students for successful legal services careers. According to The College Board, most courses emphasize legal research and writing. The following are common paralegal and legal services courses:
- Civil procedure
- Criminal law and procedure
- Legal research, writing
- Law administration, management
You might find a variety of classes in your study program, but whatever path you choose, be sure you are studying the fundamentals. The BLS notes that formally trained paralegals could have the best employment opportunities.
Online degrees in paralegal & legal services
According to the Sloan Consortium, the number of people pursuing online degrees grew by 1 million between 2009 and 2010. As web-based learning expands, so has the number of schools offering online degrees in paralegal and legal services. While many of the benefits of online education are universal--namely convenience and flexibility--there are a number of ways online learning supports future paralegals specifically.
Paralegal and legal services programs are research-intensive, and much of that research is conducted online via LEXIS/NEXIS or government databases. Online legal degree courses nurture the computer and Internet savvy required in the workplace. Online programs also allow students to collaborate with peers from across the nation, a notable perk for future legal pros who will work with clients of all types.
The makings of a great paralegal student
While practical legal services skills can be taught, many of the characteristics of a great legal assistant are inherent. According to the BLS and The College Board, great paralegals are natural problem solvers with a fascination for legal questions. They are ethical and dedicated to ensuring justice is served. They should be excellent readers, writers and researchers, and also be very detail-oriented.
Top careers for paralegal & legal services graduates
Many paralegal and legal services grads become paralegals, assisting attorneys in case preparation, but others apply their newly refined reasoning and research skills to other fields. Some of these might require additional education. A few of the careers ideal for legal services majors, as reported by The College Board, include:
- Administrative manager
As an employee in the legal field, you can also go into any kind of work. Private law firms should continue to be the largest employer of paralegal workers, but other organizations, such as banks, corporate legal departments and insurance companies could also produce job leads, according to the BLS. Paralegals could be in demands in areas such as bankruptcy, medical malpractice, product liability and more, according to the BLS.
Job opportunities for paralegals and legal assistants are predicted to grow by 28 percent during the 2008-2018 decade. This growth is considered much faster than average by the BLS and could result in the creation of more than 70,000 new employment positions during this time period.
Paralegal & legal services at a glance
- Hot trends: Paralegal Today Magazine ranks international law, tax law and mergers among the most lucrative paralegal specialties.
- Salary: U.S. paralegals earned 2010 median wages of $46,680, though the top 10 percent exceeded $74,870.
- Top employers: Law offices, investment funds and federal or state governments employ the highest concentration of legal assistants.