Requirements to Become a Paralegal

Even though the paralegal requirements for a particular position will vary by employer, it's important to understand what the basic paralegal requirements are to enter this professional field, and what types of training and education programs are available in your area. The minimum requirements to become a paralegal include having a high school diploma or a GED and being 18 years of age. Some law firms will hire paralegals that do not have any work experience and can provide a few months of on-the-job training at the entry level. Others may only work with experienced paralegals and professionals who have completed advanced training programs in the field.

General Paralegal Requirements for Certification

General paralegal requirements to enter the work force include having a high school education or a GED, and being prepared to learn or train in the field. Completing a certification program that lasts between seven to 17 months or more can help you meet many of the basic educational paralegal requirements and ensure that you are fully prepared for a position that may even be beyond the entry level in the field. Completing a certification program that is one of the ABA approved paralegal programs will tell prospective employers that have you advanced skills and training in this field, and have completed a training program that has a very high standard.

You can also find paralegal certification programs at accredited colleges, universities, technical schools and other educational training centers in your area. Some of these programs are just one or two years in length and can prepare you for the paralegal certification exam.

It's important to remember that earning a certificate a training center is not the same as being certified, but certification is still optional. Certified paralegals earn their "CP" or "CLA" designation only after they pass the exam administered by the National Association of Legal Assistants. Having this designation can give you a competitive advantage in the field and proves to your employer that you have advanced skills and expertise in this field.

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) offers the PACE Registered Paralegal (RP) designation to paralegals who complete their exam. Passing this certification exam would give you the "RP" designation.

Other Educational Paralegal Requirements

Every employer has different educational paralegal requirements and may want to work with a paralegal or legal assistant who has some work experience as well. If you decide to complete an associate's degree, bachelor's degree or a master's degree in paralegal studies, you may have the option to complete an internship to get some work experience in the field before graduation. Some large law firms and attorneys only want to work with paralegals that hold a bachelor's degree or have completed an advanced certification program.

Some paralegal positions have extensive paralegal requirements that include having a specialized degree or certificate. For example, nurse paralegals must have a few years of experience serving as a nurse and typically have a nursing degree as well as a paralegal certificate or degree in paralegal studies. Having a specialized degree can lead to better job prospects and a higher-than-average salary because of your specialized skills and expertise.