Becoming a paralegal presents an exciting opportunity if you are interested in law without necessarily becoming a lawyer. Paralegals or legal assistants help lawyers in administrative tasks such as: drafting contracts, reports, affidavits and court proceedings, and carrying out research on information related to a specific case. Given that there are no strict educational and certification requirements, it is possible to teach yourself how to become a paralegal. However gaining formal education increases your employability.
Identify the area of law you are interested in by speaking to attorneys and also carrying out research on the different areas of law. Note also that different states apply various areas of law differently; this will influence your choice of geographical area of practice.
Apply for a self-study paralegal program in the area that you intend to practice. Find out from the program provider if the program is accredited by the American Bar Association, a regional paralegal accrediting body, state bar associations or the Distance Education and Training Council. Read reviews written by past and current students who have undertaken this program.
Read free legal books available online to supplement your self-study program and to familiarize yourself with the area of law that interests you. Visit your local library, universities as well as state bar associations to gain access to the other relevant books not available online.
Learn the step-by=step process of conducting legal research by accessing legal research books from your local library. Utilize online sources such as The Best Guide to Canadian Research, which provides legal research guidance and information for any jurisdiction including the Unites States.
Study effective ways of conducting online legal research by using legal research guides such the Cornell University Law Library Guide. Acquire knowledge on how to generate search terms, to locate case material and relevant statutes as well as to verify the validity of online information.
Volunteer at a community organization or a local law firm to learn practical skills of the paralegal profession. Look for opportunities in local paralegal associations, law firms and volunteer boards such as volunteermatch.org or illionoisprobono.org. Discuss with the organization what your job description will be and what you will gain from the experience.
Tips & Warnings
- Keep yourself updated about ongoing legal issues by reading books and keeping up with the news.
- Consider membership with a paralegal association for your professional development
- Allcriminaljusticeschools: The Value of Paralegal Accreditation
- ESQ Technologies: Computers and the Practice of Law; Tools of Trade
- Cornell University Law Library: Basics of Legal Research
- The Best Guide to Canadian Legal Research: Research Essentials
- Illionois Pro Bono: Volunteering As a Paralegal; Thomas Wendt; July 2008;
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