How to Become a Paralegal
How to Become a Paralegal

The Swiss Army knife of any legal team, a paralegal is known for being a versatile and indispensable player. In this role, you juggle a variety of law-related tasks, helping attorneys in whatever ways they need. One day, you might be researching laws relevant to a case or drafting documents to file in court. The next, you could be gathering evidence for a hearing, scheduling depositions or taking notes at trial.

    Projected Growth

U.S.: (2021-2031): 14% 
Washington state: (2020-2030): 14%

    Median Annual salary

U.S. (2022): $59,200
Washington state (2022): $69,260

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine

“No one day as a paralegal is like any other,” explains attorney Judi Maier, an instructor in the Certificate in Paralegal Studies offered by UW Professional & Continuing Education. “That’s what I think is appealing about this job.”

Maier says the job also has another strong appeal: It’s about helping people. “People go into the paralegal field because they see it as a way to help people resolve problems in their lives — whether it’s business problems, personal problems or criminal issues,” Maier says.

Are Paralegals in Demand?

Career opportunities for paralegals are growing. To keep costs down and productivity up, law firms are looking to hire paralegals. “The workload in many law firms has shifted from the role associates used to play and onto the shoulders of competent paralegals,” Maier explains.

According to O*NET, the number of jobs for paralegals is expected to grow by 14% across the United States and in Washington state over the next decade.

How Do You Become a Paralegal?

The most common and direct route to getting started in this role is to take a paralegal training program, like the Certificate in Paralegal Studies. “If you have a respected credential, that shows a law firm that you’ve passed a rigorous course of study, have been deemed competent by your instructors and are ready to go to work; a law firm is likely eager to hire you,” Maier says.

The course Law Office Fundamentals can help you learn the basics of what it takes to work in a legal setting, and any undergraduate degree can work as a launch pad for pursuing paralegal studies. And, depending on your major, you might want to take advantage of your undergraduate field of study to work in a related legal area. If you have a background in psychology or social studies, you might consider family law, for example. Ally Taylor Bain, who has a bachelor's degree in psychology, is one certificate program graduate who landed a job as a paralegal at a firm specializing in family law.

An engineering or science background can make you a good fit for patent law or intellectual property law — and can lead to especially lucrative paralegal careers. “I know of certificate grads with master’s degrees in engineering who went on to get well-paying jobs at boutique patent law firms or intellectual property law firms because of their backgrounds,” Maier says.

Furthering Your Education

Interested in paralegal studies? Check out our Certificate in Paralegal Studies and other related programs: 

For more career tips and industry trends, visit the News & Features section of our website, and subscribe to our email list. To learn more about UW Professional & Continuing Education certificates, specializations, degrees and courses, explore your options or contact us.

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