How to Become a Paralegal

How to Become a Paralegal: Career Path Guide

Are you interested in a law career, but not convinced you’d enjoy being a lawyer, or you're hesitant to make the commitment required to earn a law degree? If so, a career as a paralegal might be an excellent career option for you!


This demanding but rewarding career offers the chance to work in a legal profession without having to get a law degree, great pay, and the chance to make use of a variety of administrative, research, people and legal skills.


If becoming a paralegal sounds promising, then read on below; we’ll fill you in on what you’d be doing, how much you could make, and what you need to do to get into this field!



Education Needed to Become a Paralegal

There are multiple educational routes for becoming a paralegal. However, the most common is to have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies.


If you have a degree that isn’t in paralegal studies, don’t worry; another common path into this career field is to simply complement your existing degree with a certificate in paralegal studies.


Paralegal certificate program are designed to provide you with the precise knowledge base you’ll need on the job without requiring multiple more years of schooling.




Licensing Requirements

In Canada and the United States, there are currently no national licensing bodies for paralegals. However, some Canadian provinces and American states require that you’re registered in good standing with their law society in order to work as a paralegal. Please check with your provincial/state law society for specific information on licensing requirements. 



Skills You'll Need

In order to become a paralegal, and perform your job effectively once you’ve been hired on, you’ll need a certain set of hard and soft skills, including:



Hard Skills


• Knowledge of techniques and practices used in acquiring information and evidence

• Familiarity with legal terminology and legal procedures, including Court procedures

• Technical understanding of a specific legal specialty

• Excellent typing speed

• Proficiency in using Microsoft Word, Excel and Microsoft Outlook

• Proficiency with case management software

• Skilled at online and offline legal research methods



Soft Skills


• Excellent attention to detail

• Strong clerical and organization skills

• The ability to listen carefully to instructions

• The ability to work with minimal supervision

• The ability to effectively communicate with internal and external clients, attorneys & support staff



What You’d Be Doing: General Job Description

As a paralegal, you’d essentially be responsible for carrying out whatever tasks the supervising attorney assigns to you. This could include assisting attorneys during trials, organizing case files, preparing trial notes, performing legal research, preparing legal briefs and sometimes conducting client and witness interviews.



General Job Duties

Although the functions you would perform as a paralegal could vary from job to job, tasks you would be responsible for performing might include:


• Acting as a liaison between lawyers and clients when lawyers are unavailable

• Drafting legal documents such as wills, pleadings, real estate documents, corporate documents and others

• Assisting with real estate, mortgage, estate administration, corporate, tax and intellectual law transactions

• Assisting in various aspects of personal injury litigation, civil litigation and family law

• Assisting lawyers with document retrieval during Examinations for Discovery and court proceedings

• Conducting legal searches, such as those pertaining to tax and land titles

• Interviewing witnesses and gathering documentary evidence for trials




Is Becoming a Paralegal Right for You?

To succeed as a paralegal, you need to be detail-oriented, organized and efficient. Your duties will also vary greatly based on the size of the firm or the supervising attorney(s), so you must also be very adaptable and highly organized, or dedicated enough to learn to be organized.


Since you will be working closely with lawyers, other legal professionals and clients, you should also enjoy working with people, and be honest, trustworthy and have respect for the confidentiality of client information.



Who Employs Paralegals?

Paralegals work under the supervision of lawyers in small and large law firms (of all specialties), court systems and the legal departments of large organizations.



What Kind of Salary Can You Earn?

The salary level you could earn as a paralegal can vary, typically depending on the following factors:


• Your professional qualifications (education, experience, etc.)

• The size and budget of your employer

• The region in which you work

• The scope of your job duties

• Your level of responsibility


Paralegal Salary in Alberta: According to the 2017 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, the average salary level of Albertans working in the Paralegal and Related Occupations group earn an average salary of $63,277 per year.


Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean salary level (2018) of Americans working in the Paralegals and Legal Assistants occupational group is $50,940 per year.



Work Environment

As a paralegal, you would work in a fast-paced office environment under tight deadlines. It’s likely that you’d work standard office hours, but overtime may occasionally be required to meet deadlines, attend meetings, and perform other duties.


You would also likely have to travel occasionally in order to gather information, collect and review documents, accompany attorneys to depositions or trials, and do other tasks.



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Career Advancement Possibilities

If you display a good work ethic and competence when performing your duties, there will be many opportunities to move into other roles or to otherwise advance your career. Some forms of career advancement that will be open to you may include:


• Getting more responsibility, and more pay

• Being promoted to a position of managing other paralegals

• Becoming office manager for a small legal firm

• Becoming a legal recruiter

• Going to law school to become a lawyer

• Starting a paralegal-for-hire business, contracting yourself or other paralegals out to firms or individual practicing attorneys


Please Note: While working as a law clerk does not offer a shortened route to becoming a lawyer, the experience and knowledge gained while working as a paralegal would be very useful and relevant for that career.



Careers Similar to ‘Paralegal’

Listed below are occupations in our database that have similar responsibilities, and/or require similar skills, or be in the same sector of industry, as Paralegal:


• Administrative Assistant

• Commercial Realtor

• Law Clerk

• Lawyer

• Legal Assistant




Information for this career guide was compiled from the websites listed below. Some information has also been compiled from actual job postings from various organizations, which cannot be listed here due to the brief nature of their online availability.



Occupations in Alberta:Paralegal.” (January 31, 2017). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 2, 2020.

Legal:Paralegals and Legal Assistants.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved January 2, 2020.

Paralegal Licensing Process: “Paralegal Licensing Process.” (n.d.). Law Society of Ontario website. Retrieved January 2, 2020.



Scholarships for Becoming a Paralegal

The “Applicable Majors” section below shows fields of study relevant to a career as a paralegal. You can search for scholarships matched to those fields of study on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming a Paralegal: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the college/university majors listed below can be helpful for becoming a paralegal. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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