Paralegals have become fixtures in law offices across this country for two reasons. The profession evolved, to a degree, from the increasing responsibilities that legal secretaries took on, to the point where it made sense for non-lawyers working in law offices to have some training in specific areas. The role of paralegal and the education options attached to it evolved together.

So the first reason that paralegals became common in the law profession is that attorneys found value in having assistants that could perform many of the time-consuming duties attached to the profession such as drafting documents, doing research and getting the proper materials filed on time and in the correct locations.

The second reason is that traditionally most law firms employed newly minted lawyers to provide those services, and they found that it wasn’t necessary to have someone with a legal pedigree (and the salary to go with it) for many of the non-crucial functions involved in the practice of law.

A Paralegal Education

There have been many avenues to the profession, as it has evolved from an in-house training endeavor to a career that is often launched with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Most employers today are looking for paralegal employees that have some formal education. Students who are entering the profession as a first career usually obtain either an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree from one of the paralegal schools.

Those degrees generally take two years and four years to complete, respectively. There are several online degrees in paralegal studies from accredited schools that can be completed more rapidly, if you are willing to put in the study hours required.

A Second Career as a Paralegal

Individuals who have already gotten a college degree in some other field and are looking for a new career option can obtain a certificate in paralegal studies. This option can take a year to eighteen months; those who opt for a certificate program generally rely on previous educational credentials to provide sufficient professional background, making them credible candidates for a paralegal job.

Any paralegal position is going to require a certain amount of on the job training. Some of that has to do with the way each law office functions; as well, many law offices specialize in certain areas of the law that have specific types of work requirements for research or document preparation.

There are post-graduate certification options, although many of them require both formal education and some experience. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations offers a two-day exam that results in status as a Certified Paralegal.

Author's Bio: 

Bob Hartzell writes on education and careers for several websites