Paralegals are an integral part of the legal profession, providing support in law firms, courts, corporate legal departments and other entities. With some exceptions, paralegals perform many of the same functions as attorneys. There are several things you can do as a paralegal to improve your marketability. By employing these tips, you can increase your earning potential and expand your base of opportunities.
- Specialize. Many organizations provide continuing legal education for paralegals. A contract paralegal might seek courses related to contract administration, legal writing and business law. Litigation paralegals may benefit from torts, trial practice, or evidence gathering courses. Live seminars, webinars and self-study courses in specified areas of law abound.
- Stay current. The law is fluid. Completing a paralegal program is only the beginning of your education. Laws are amended, repealed and passed daily. Be aware of proposed changes in your field. Additionally, courts have specific sets of rules and procedures. Federal and state courts each have a set of general rules. Individual courts also usually have a set of uniform local rules which are updated regularly. It is imperative that you know these procedural guidelines.
- Learn multiple software applications. With technological advances growing at lightning pace, new software applications are introduced all the time. Your proficiency in such applications directly impacts your value as a paralegal. Even standard office applications are constantly tweaked and upgraded. Getting to know these applications as well as you can will make you a better job candidate and simplify your life by increasing efficiency and organization.
- Learn a new language. Being multilingual in today’s global society is useful in nearly any profession. With domestic diversity and international business growing daily, the ability to communicate across language barriers is an invaluable asset. Online opportunities as well as traditional classrooms make learning a second language easier than ever. Some courses are free or available for a nominal fee. You might even find yourself using this additional skill by becoming a translator or communication specialist.
- Complementary knowledge. Gaining knowledge in secondary fields is another useful tip. As a real property paralegal, you may benefit from advanced knowledge in property assessment and accounting. Medical malpractice paralegals may take courses in medical terminology and ethics. The possibilities are endless, so use your interests to guide you in pursuing additional knowledge and training.
- Networking. Networking with other legal professionals via social media or paralegal associations will greatly improve your chances of knowing about available opportunities. As with any other field, word of mouth is the best network.
- Take the next step. If you feel you have reached a ceiling in your career and wish to take the next step, you might consider applying to law school. Paralegals perform many of the same tasks as attorneys. They simply do it in a support role. If you are looking to advance further, law school is the natural progression.
- Freelancing. Freelance paralegals provide services in a variety of fields. A freelance paralegal may exclusively research or draft documents for certain firms or entities. They may also specialize in completing required forms in certain areas of law, such as SSDI applications or bankruptcy documentation. If you like flexibility and working independently, a freelancing career is certainly an attainable goal.
- Certification. Although many states do not require that a paralegal be certified or have a college degree, this always expands your opportunities. There are a number of national and state organizations that offer paralegal certification. Some universities also include certification testing in their paralegal programs.
- Relocate. Job markets vary widely from region to region, and even from town to town. A city with a prominent law school or federal court location may offer a larger number and more lucrative positions than a small town with a few general practice firms. If your goal is to maximize your paralegal skills, considering a move to a better market may be worthwhile.
The paralegal profession can offer a rewarding and interesting career. Knowing your strengths and developing useful skills can open up a world of opportunities for you if you are willing to invest the time and effort required.