Becoming a paralegal means you’re going to work in a legal office. You may go to the courtroom with the lawyers who work in the law firm where you’re employed. This is a profession which is highly detail oriented, requiring you to get things right the first time.
In your role, you’ll ensure that the lawyers you’re assigned to work with are organized; they will need legal citations, documents, and case details. It will be up to you to track, maintain, and provide all of this when it’s required.
Providing a strong foundation for your career means joining professional associations, reading journals for paralegals, finding study resources, earning certifications, and perhaps even going to industry conferences. If you can do some of this as a student, this will make you even stronger in your new role.
Resources for Before and After College
Top Resources for Paralegal Students
High-quality paralegal degree programs should be accredited. As you are exploring the various programs, you can look for accreditation from regional US accrediting bodies in general. If you are interested in programmatic accreditation, you should look for this from the American Bar Association (ABA).
The ABA is selective about which programs it chooses to accredit. Before making your final choice, take the time to look through each school’s paralegal degree website and determine whether it is accredited. If it is, find out which accrediting agency has conferred the accreditation.
Law firms much prefer hiring paralegals who have graduated from ABA-accredited paralegal degree programs. In addition, the ABA wants programs it has accredited to be fully traditional—this means online programs are not likely to be available.
Questions About Financial Aid
One of the biggest questions you’ll need to consider before you get into a paralegal degree program is financial aid. Will you qualify for financial assistance? How do you get it? And how much will you get? Will you have to pay all of it back?
Going to college can be expensive. Even if you choose to earn an associate degree in paralegal studies, you still might need to rely on financial aid. The program’s accreditation status is also vital; if you want to obtain federal financial aid, your degree program must be accredited by at least a regional accrediting body. If it isn’t, you’re going to be limited to student loans.
Should you try to get loans first or should you reach out for grants and scholarships before you apply for loans? You ‘ll have to repay any student loans you receive. However, grants and scholarships are money you don’t have to pay back, which makes them basically free money.
Professional associations for paralegals sometimes award grants and scholarships to students majoring in paralegal studies. The American Association for Paralegal Education awards small grants to students (full- or part-time) who are admitted to schools with a Lambda Epsilon Chi chapter.
Factors such as your parents’ ability to assist with the costs of your education should also taken into account. If you want to apply for scholarships for paralegal students, you should first look for scholarships from professional organizations. Like grants, scholarships for paralegal majors are available from many sources.
Paralegal Associations for Students
Even though you’re going to school, studying, and taking tests, it’s still an excellent idea to find and perhaps join an organization for paralegals. The Code of Ethics this profession operates under is enforced by several professional associations.
By joining one of these groups you can learn about this professional Code of Ethics and much more. You’ll also learn how the profession operates within the legal field and have access to online communities, journals, and more.
- Association of Legal Administrators (ALA)
Members work in a law firm, helping to manage its functions. ALA offers online communities and education, as well as the magazine, Legal Management.
- Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP)
OLP urges each member to study for and take the Certified eDiscovery Professional exam, allowing those who pass to earn recognition for their achievement.
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
NFPA tackles the issues vital to professional paralegals, then works to develop policies that help everyone in this profession. NFPA also monitors upcoming legislation and case law.
- The Paralegal Association (NALA)
NALA supports its members with professional development and continuing education opportunities. Members are also able to meet and network with each other.
- International Practice Management Association (IPMA)
This organization is the International Legal Assistant Management Association and is also called the International Paralegal Management Association. IPMA is the main source for education and information on managing paralegals and other support professionals.
- American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI)
AAPI was formed in 2003 by several paralegals who wanted to form a national organization intended to meet the needs of other paralegals whether or not they were already affiliated with another association.
Student or Open Access Journals
Open access journals are another resource that you, as a paralegal studies degree major, can benefit from. While you’re likely already pretty busy enough, paying attention to available student journals will help you learn even more about your chosen profession.
Some of what you learn may find its way into a research paper or, depending on your educational level, your capstone or thesis. You can often access these journals through your school library, which may have an online subscription or even receive a paper version, which you can copy to refer to at a later date. Or download the journals onto an e-reader, which allows you to save the articles until you need them.
Paralegal Study Resources
As you explore the resources available to you, you’ll come across study resources specifically for paralegal majors. When you enrolled into your paralegal degree program, you may have already had a set of plans and goals you wanted to strive toward.
In order to meet this goal, you should pursue study resources outside the classroom, aside from your regular studies and textbooks. This can help you keep up with changes in the profession or even gain certification in specialties of the paralegal field.
If you’re looking to receive certification in a specific area, you’ll need to find study resources and might want to consider taking practice tests before you take the real exam.
- First Amendment (On-Demand Webinar)
This webinar is a recording and a PDF of the PowerPoint used in the actual class. You’ll learn about the intent behind the 1st Amendment.
- Common Ethical and Legal Pitfalls in Estate Planning (Live Webinar)
This event, which is held at certain times, covers the requirements in ethical representation and holding confidence.
- 2017 Employment Law Updates (On-Demand Webinar)
You have access to this webinar online if you can’t take part when it is held. It covers new developments in employment laws, based on the challenges they pose to lawyers and their clients.
- Business Etiquette (Self-Study Course)
Learn business etiquette and what is acceptable in the office. These rules are not written down, instead they are something you learn in discussions with fellow employees.
You have a valid reason to have your cellphone on your desk during your classes. Especially if you have loaded it with apps that help you to keep track of assignments and due dates; it’s a tool, not a distraction.
While you can use a tablet or laptop to keep track of your upcoming class commitments, you may choose to keep them on a separate device. You could also store this on your laptop or tablet so you can store the information on the cloud and have it be accessible from anywhere.
Apps that help you to stay focused on your studies, schedule due dates for exams and papers, or let you keep easy-to-search notes are available for Apple devices, Android phones, tablets, and PCs.
Evernote allows you to write notes and include attachments. You know how you want your notes organize; Evernote allows you to customize your notes however you like.
With research papers come bibliographies. These aren’t always easy to format or write out correctly. This app allows you to avoid plagiarism and format each entry separately.
This app was created for paralegal majors, who need to have fast access to a database of case law. This app is available for iPhone users.
- Dragon Anywhere
This dictation app allows you to write and edit documents using your voice. Speaking into a mobile device, you can work on papers without needing a keyboard.
The LawStack app allows you to carry legal references without lugging heavy textbooks everywhere. Fast search capability means you’ll find what you need easily.
- Exam Countdown Lite
This app is an electronic timer that counts down the time and gives you reminders. You can use it for each class, keep track of daily deadlines, and even count the time you have till a test.
- Black’s Law Dictionary
This app allows you to find definitions for those terms that give you trouble. The app holds more than 50,000 legal terms, plus upward of 16,000 law definitions.
Should you really add an internship to your busy schedule? Yes. Internships are on-the-job training, which you’ll need by the time you graduate. In a well-designed internship, you’ll learn what your role will be in a legal practice. You may be temporarily assigned to one of the lawyers in the firm so you can begin putting theory into practice.
You’ll learn about finding applicable case law, how to use legal terminology correctly, and about the forms that law firms use every day. You’ll also be able to work on written and oral communication, which are both highly important in this work environment.
And, if there is a concept you don’t quite have down cold, this is the place to goof up. You’ll be under a lawyer’s supervision and they will be watching for errors and take the time to correct you without you risking your employment.
Resources for Students and Professionals
Paralegal Certification Options
As a practicing paralegal, you are required to continue learning. Your state will periodically request proof that you have been taking continuing education courses that help you to work as effectively as possible. Certification is one way to earn continuing education credits and also expand your knowledge and skill set.
No matter the law specialty you work within, you’ll have to show continuing competence in that field. The work you do, assisting the lawyers you are assigned to, means you need a deep understanding of case law. And, no matter what your daily work life looks like, you are going to be immersed in law all day long.
For example, if you are assisting a lawyer in a trial, you may be expected to provide cases you have found that are applicable to the trial itself; you may also create/prepare exhibits the lawyer will use.
While your scope of work is broad, there is one area in which you are not allowed to speak: You can’t offer legal advice or opinions or represent a client in court. You will be drafting contracts and agreements and preparing documents. You’ll explain law procedures to agency clients and you’ll offer legal information to a non-legal audience.
- Online Paralegal Associate’s and Post-Degree Certificate Programs
- Online Master of Legal Studies Program
- Online Master’s in Corporate Compliance (Requires Bachelor’s degree)
- CORE Registered Paralegal (CRP) credential
- Certified Paralegal
Certification Study Resources
When you register for a certified paralegal exam, you’ll need to go through an organization that is focused on certifying paralegals across the country. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers certification exams to current paralegals or students who are about to become paralegals.
As you decide what certifications you want to earn, you’ll be able to look through everything they offer so you know you’ve chosen the right one. You can also find descriptions of each exam so that you know what you’re studying for.
Temp agencies are far from being only for those who can’t find the job they have dreamed of. Instead, these agencies can also be viewed as a strong beginning for paralegals who have just recently graduated from college. Whether these new professionals have earned an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or higher, they have valuable knowledge to offer.
Because a paralegal’s work is so specialized, you might be interested in a short stint with a temp agency. This will allow you to experience multiple offices that practice various types of law. Once you have obtained the skills that are most highly sought after and you know where you want to focus your career, you can branch out and begin applying to law offices.
Resources for Paralegal Professionals
Professional Paralegal Associations
Professional associations for paralegals give you the support and opportunities you need as you begin your career in the legal field. Once you graduate from college, your learning has not ended. Instead, you’ll likely need to use every opportunity you can to learn more about your chosen career.
Being a paralegal isn’t easy - you need to be skilled in tracking down research, communicating with lawyers and clients, and working within a well-defined Code of Ethics. Joining a professional association gives you chances to meet and talk with more senior paralegals, who will be able to tell you what is expected of you and how to deal with difficult situations. You’ll also be able to find additional reading and study resources for the certifications you need to complete periodically.
Popular Paralegal Journals
Although you’re done with school and studying, that doesn’t mean that your learning days are over. As a paralegal, you’ll need to continue studying, learning, and increasing your knowledge base in the legal field.
You don’t need to look for textbooks like you read in college. Instead, you should be on the lookout for professional paralegal journals. These are filled with current research and information that may affect your work in the future. What’s happening in the legal profession? Has a controversial ruling come down from a state supreme court or the Supreme Court of the United States? Any of these could change how your law office operates.
- The National Paralegal Reporter - Offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- @Law - Offered by the National Association for Legal Professionals
- The Legaco Journal - Offered by Legaco Express
- Paralegal Today - Independent Publication
- The Alliance Echo - Offered by the American Alliance of Paralegals
Industry Conferences for Paralegals
It isn’t only the lawyers who go to industry conferences. You should expect to do so as well. These conferences are designed to give attendees such as yourself as much access to information as possible. Whether you’re in your first year as a paralegal or you’ve been in this field for several years, you’ll always learn something new.
Maybe you need to review some information you haven’t used for a few years; an industry conference may have a session or a talk about it. When you attend, you’ll get both a review of older information and an update about new research and knowledge.
- Paralegals Navigating Perilous Waters Cruise
Learn about new ways to get through your daily tasks every day. It’s not easy to stay up to date with your work, so this conference may offer you some tips.
- NALA Conference & Expo
You will be exposed to new techniques for your job. Moderators introduce new skills critical to you as a paralegal.
- NFPA Joint Conference
This conference focuses on leadership and certification. Attendees also learn about how and why they are regulated in their profession.
- International Practice Management Association
This conference is one of the biggest in the year. It offers both networking and professional development. You’ll be able to participate in workshops and general sessions.