Paralegals assist lawyers in preparing for closings, hearings, trials, and corporate meetings. They also investigate cases to ensure that all relevant facts and laws are considered, and prepare written reports that attorneys use in determining how cases should be handled.
Becoming a paralegal or legal assistant is a great way to be involved in the legal system, earn good money, and be around interesting and captivating work. You may choose to think of it as a fantastic way to have the benefits of the legal profession, while avoiding the strenuous education and work that goes along with becoming and working as an actual lawyer. In many cases, in order to work as a paralegal or get a paralegal degree or certificate, the time frame is no longer than two years, and sometimes it is quite a bit less depending on the type of education for which your are searching and your previous employment history. But exactly what is a paralegal and what does a paralegal do?
The Paralegal Job Description
As a paralegal, you won’t be able to dispense actual legal advice. What you typically will be doing is data compilation, research work, reviewing statistics, collecting information, and conducting a slew of other duties that a lawyer might not have the time or inclination to take care of himself. You might even find yourself undertaking administrative duties within the office itself. It might not be the action packed, Law and Order episode you’re envisioning, where you’re prosecuting murders in some of the most interesting cases on the planet. However, if you enjoy a career in which you are continuously learning and able to use your brain, then becoming a paralegal might just work for you.
While the above description might make paralegal work sound a bit drab and a role in which you might be stuck inside or at a desk all day with no human interaction, that isn’t necessarily the case. While you won’t be able to give legal advice, that doesn’t mean you won’t have interaction with clients, lawyers, judges, police officers, and plenty of other legal and law enforcement professionals. You might be conducting interviews, taking statements, and basically acting as a lawyer’s fact finder. It is also important that you be able to perform with little supervision and work within set guidelines and time-frames in order to meet important deadlines. Remember, the information you gather might be used in important cases in which peoples lives and livelihoods are on the line. See — it can be exciting after all!
Types of Paralegal Programs
Just as with any position, much of the learning and education takes place once you are out in the real world and practicing your vocation. However, that doesn’t mean a degree or certificate isn’t necessary or at least beneficial. In the paralegal realm, there are a number of ways to go about beginning your education.
For those with a history in the industry or previous educational background, say a 4-year degree in criminal justice for example, a few refresher courses taken either online or in the classroom might suffice to get you back in the game. For those without a degree or with a limited educational background, a two-year associate’s degree or certification program might be necessary to fully prepare for the paralegal environment. These types of programs can often be fulfilled at community colleges or through an online program.
Online Paralegal Programs
If you are working already or just don’t have the means or ability to get to a classroom or a scheduled class session, you might want to consider an online program. An online program can be a great way to either begin your paralegal education or supplement your existing background. While online certification or degree programs typically consist of the same variety of courses offered on a college campus, the time-frames for completion may vary. Since many of these programs allow students to complete courses on their own schedule, a student might find himself finishing faster or more slowly than when taking classroom courses depending on their schedule and the available time commitment they can make to the coursework. When considering which online paralegal program might be right for you, be sure to ask plenty of questions and compare a program’s curriculum to other reputable institutions. To find out more about schools that offer online paralegal courses, visit the Online Paralegal Degree directory.