a paralegal sitting in his desk reviewing a case

A New Yorker’s Guide to Becoming a Paralegal

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By definition, a paralegal is someone not fully qualified as a lawyer but trained adequately in subsidiary legal matters. Paralegals help with administrative and legal duties in a law firm, including researching, drafting, filing and organizing various legal documents and files. They most commonly work in law firms or business corporations wherein there are legal departments.

While a lot of people misunderstand or belittle paralegals, the truth is that they can heavily impact one’s case. Putting it simply, paralegals are the branches if the legal team is compared to a plant. Although seemingly irrelevant, they are an essential part of the system and integral in winning a case.

If you are interested in pursuing a career as a paralegal, this guide will discuss the work and education path you will have to take in order to become one.

Educational Path

There are various educational opportunities an interested individual can take to become a paralegal. However, the most basic step is to enroll in a degree program in paralegal studies. This is offered in some community colleges and schools in New York.

If you already have a degree, you can instead opt for a master’s degree or certificate program in paralegal work. There are also paralegal degree programs offered online for working students or professionals. Whatever educational avenue you choose, make sure that you enroll in American Bar Association (ABA)-approved paralegal programs.

To start, you can check out some of these ABA-approved paralegal schools in New York.

  1. New York City College of Technology-CUNY
  2. Berkeley College of New York City
  3. Bronx Community College
  4. State University of New York College of Technology at Canton

If these are not the colleges for you, feel free to check out other colleges verified by the ABA. After all, there are about 50 colleges and universities that offer paralegal degree programs all over New York.

Work and Experience

Employers usually look into an employee’s work experiences before hiring them. While most paralegals who have had previous experiences in related fields have a higher possibility to get hired, even fresh graduates can be given a chance to ramp up their work experience and training through various opportunities.

In some paralegal degree programs, internships are included in the curriculum to give fresh graduates a chance to experience and work in the industry. Some law firms also take in paralegal graduates to train them. Your training and experiences should revolve around legal or administrative work if you want to stand out from other competing paralegal candidates.

Certification Exam

lawyer and paralegal in their law office

Just like other legal careers, you are required to pass the Certified Paralegals (CP) and Certified Legal Assistants (CLA) examination conducted by paralegal organizations such as the National Association of Legal Assistants.

These tests have been recognized and verified by the ABA as examinations that really gauge the skills and knowledge of individuals who want to be paralegals. Over the years, passing these certification exams has proven to be a mark of a high level of competency and professionalism in the field.

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