How Long Does It Take To Become A Paralegal?

A statue holding the scales of justice.

If you are organized, detail-oriented, computer savvy, and have good researching and people skills, working as a paralegal might be the career path for you. Paralegals are an integral part of any law office, government agencies, and even larger businesses’ legal departments. Paralegal job growth according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics will be higher than average at 12% from 2020 to 2030, so if you’re looking for a way to future-proof your career without having to attend a 4-year or even 2-year college program, this is a great career to get into.

Earning Your Certificate

There  is a difference between earning your certificate as a paralegal and being certified. The certificate refers to the education you acquired, and the term certified refers to any state or national test you might take and pass. At Washington Technical Institute, we provide three paralegal certificate options. The National Paralegal Certificate Program gives you up to 8 months to complete your coursework of five classes. The Senior Paralegal Certificate Program is a 12 month program that covers eleven classes, while the Master Paralegal Certificate Program is an 16 month program that covers fifteen classes. 

Becoming Certified

Once you earn your certificate, you can become certified as a paralegal by taking any state or national exams that you qualify for. Some employers will require certification and may even have higher salaries for those who are certified. Depending on the position you are applying for, taking a test to become a certified paralegal can be worth the time and efforts it takes to do so. 

The Certified Paralegal (CP) exam is provided through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). In order to qualify for the CP exam through NALA, you have to meet one of three different categories of requirements. One category requires that you have participated in a paralegal program consisting of 60 semester hours with at least 15 of those hours in substantive legal courses, and another requires seven years’ experience as a paralegal along with 20 hours of legal education within the two years before you take the exam. This exam is given in two parts: the Knowledge Exam and the Skills Exam.  Test-takers must pass the Knowledge Exam before they are permitted to take the Skills Exam, so once you pass the Knowledge test, you have to register to take the Skills portion, which is only offered at certain times during the year.

Another test you can take to become a certified paralegal is the National Association for Legal Support (NALS) Accredited Legal Professional (ALP) exam. To sit for this exam, you have to have completed an accredited business or legal course or have at least one year of experience working in a general office environment. 

Duties and Responsibilities

Some law firms or companies may hire you with a certificate in paralegal studies alone. It is important to determine hiring qualifications of the jobs you would like to apply for. You can always choose to become certified once you have some work experience under your belt. 

Your work as a paralegal will require a few main areas of expertise:

  • • Work directly with clients, gathering information and following up throughout the legal process.
  • • Perform legal research about laws, legal articles, and regulations to prepare attorneys for court.
  • • Organize and present information to the lawyers, including summaries and written reports.
  • • Collect and organize witness statements, depositions, and testimonies.
  • • Draft documents and correspondence.
  • • File legal documents with the court.

Where to Find Work

Paralegals work in a variety of practice areas, including law offices. However, the job opportunities for this career field are all over. Corporations hire paralegals often work as a liaison between two companies as they are hammering out contractual details, working with boards of directors, product licensing, or even tax-codes.

Real estate and title companies also employ paralegals to process the transactions for both residential and commercial real estate. They are the individuals responsible for drafting sales contracts, making sure that appraisal paperwork is in order, and that any important loan or environmental study documents are ready for closing day.

Public defenders’ offices hire paralegals to help them navigate the criminal defense system. These roles require the paralegal to have knowledge about the penal code as well as legal research and forms. Being able to effectively communicate with employees of the court, including judges, clerks, and investigators is essential in this role, but a career working for a county, state, or federal government agency provides opportunities for security and a growing career.

How to Get Started

If you’re ready to start a new career as a paralegal and would like to speak with one of our admissions staff members, you can call us at 800-371-5581 or text us at 952-465-3702. Enrollment in one of our self-paced, online paralegal programs is easy. Reach out and get started today! 

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Washington Technical Institute is Regionally accredited by the Middle States Association CESS, and licensed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education as an institution of higher learning