Paralegal is a distinguishable group of people whose function is to assist the attorney in order to deliver the legal services. They are also known as legal assistants. They get qualified for the practice through formal education, paralegal training and experience. There are many paralegal schools that offer certificate courses and other research programs in paralegal studies.
A significant limitation of paralegal professionals is that they cannot give legal assistance to the consumers directly. All the legal services have to be regulated through the lawyers (attorney). Law offices, corporation and government agencies (entities that perform specific legal works) are some of the organizations that employ paralegals. A paralegal professional can practice law but not without a license. He or she cannot represent a client in the court, decide upon a fee or take on any case.
A paralegal professional should meet certain minimum qualifications in order to practice law under a lawyer.
Completion of the Certified Legal Assistant certifying (CLA) examination held by the National Association of Legal Assistants
Completion of graduation from a course of study of legal assistants that is either ABA approved or institutionally accredited.
An in-house paralegal training for not less than six months is preferred.
It is mandatory to have at least three years of paralegal experience (law-related training) under the supervision of an attorney
You can have two years of in-house training as legal assistant as well.
Paralegal educational programs in the United States are on significant growth. There are estimated 600 paralegal education programs with a variety of formats and combinations (regarding course subjects and specializations). Several public and private institutions are offering paralegal education. Some of them include community colleges, four-year College and universities, Business College and other proprietary institutions. You can apply for the courses regardless of your educational background. The course structure are constructed in such a way that anyone can apply for the programs. The most common types of programs are:
Associate degree programs. Two-year community colleges, four-year colleges, universities and business schools offer these programs. After completing 60-70 sessions, you can earn an associate degree. Half of the course constitutes paralegal course while other half deals with general education. The transfer facility of the courses is also available (do check about this before joining any institution).
Bachelor degree programs. Various public and private institutions offers paralegal studies major, minor or concentration within a major. The length of these programs is about 120-130 sessions that includes 30-60 sessions in related topics. You will be awarded with a bachelor degree after completing the program.
Paralegal certificate programs You can opt for certificate programs after you have successfully completed your bachelor program. You will earn a certificate after completing 18-60 sessions (various institutions have different structure).
Master’s degree programs. This program is an advanced degree in paralegal studies. The same colleges and universities that offer bachelor degrees have started offering masters degree. This is a specialized program that will enable you to learn paralegal studies in detail.
Apart from these, you have an opportunity to get paralegal training under any lawyer. However, if you are interested to go further into a research in paralegal studies then there are many specialized research institutes that offer such curriculum.