While there is no single definition for a paralegal or legal assistant, the spectrum of state statutes, court rules, and case law are singular in deciding that for a paralegal to be considered as such, he or she must undergo formal education, training, and work experience to perform substantive legal work.
From this alone, you can deduce how important paralegal education is if you are considering legal assistance as a viable professional career.
How Paralegal Education is Obtained
Paralegal education may be obtained through a one-year certificate. Some may also get a degree in paralegal education that may last anywhere from two years to four years. Others may combine some form of paralegal education with another four-year degree of study in some other area that may or may not involve the legal system.
A paralegal does not have to have formal paralegal education in order to be employed. In fact, most employers are willing to provide on-the-job training for their paralegals, but mainly as an addition to the knowledge and skills they already received from formal education.
Where to Get Paralegal Education
Since employers nowadays look for some formal paralegal education in a prospective employee’s resume prior to hiring, it is advisable that you consider any of the paralegal programs offered by many colleges and universities. These programs may include two-year certificates or four-year degrees in paralegal studies.
Alternatively, proprietary schools generally award post-baccalaureate certificates to deserving individuals. Typically, a formal paralegal education has 24 semester hours or the equivalent of legal specialty courses. This is to enhance the ability of the paralegal to practice his or her profession.
If unable to receive a four-year formal paralegal education, a two-year degree with an emphasis in paralegal studies is also acceptable to employers in some markets. This may be enough to pass the minimum educational criterion. Current trends, however, show that formal paralegal education has become a requirement to secure employment in this area. In addition, many markets have used the four-year degree as a hiring standard.
How to Choose a School for Paralegal Studies?
The next step in building a career in the paralegal profession is to consider which paralegal school to attend. When choosing a school that offers paralegal education, the curriculum is the most important consideration.
A typical curriculum for paralegal education consists of three kinds of courses:
* General education
* Non-legal specialty courses (other useful electives)
* Legal specialty
Regardless of the type of course, emphasis should be given to the following areas: critical thinking and communication skills. These are the two required core competencies that must be present in a formal paralegal education.
In addition to legal studies, a paralegal program may also involve basic education courses, which help develop basic academic skills in students as well as introduce them to some of the concepts and knowledge that educated people are expected to know.