How Hard Is It to Become a Paralegal?

America’s criminal justice system and civil courts are packed with legal cases and claims that could keep these systems tied up for years without proper legal support.

Paralegals are key players in America’s legal system and are currently in high demand nationwide.


If you have ever imagined yourself working in a fast-paced courtroom or booming law practice as a legal assistant, this is your guide.

Our guide answers the question: How hard is it to Become a Paralegal for aspiring legal assistants considering entering the field?

How Hard Is It to Become a Paralegal?

Paralegals are legal professionals who work alongside lawyers and judicial officials to deliver legal services.

US-based Paralegals are not typically licensed to practice individually; however, the rules and laws are changing in a few states, allowing well-trained Paralegals to become licensed to operate independently and provide limited legal services.

Which States Allow Paralegals to Practice Independently?

Although most states typically require working paralegals to have licensed supervision, a few allow them to work independently and maintain their offices.

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Limited License Programs for Paralegals allow eligible Legal Specialists to practice in family law or landlord-tenant law without direct attorney supervision.

Incoming candidates should note that the rules and requirements for independent licensure or certification will vary between states.

The states listed below currently operate Limited License Programs for independent practice.

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Minnesota
  • Utah
  • Washington

Visit the state Bar Association or the American Bar Association websites to learn more about local rules of practice for independent paralegals in your state.

Paralegal Job Duties

The role of a paralegal working under the supervision of a licensed attorney includes some of the following legal duties and related administrative tasks.

  • Conducting Legal Research – A certified paralegal’s primary job duties typically include conducting in-depth legal research to discover relevant laws, regulations, and court decisions related to current cases.
  • Analyzing Legal Documents – Paralegals spend much time analyzing complex legal documents to prepare legally accurate summaries and briefs for attorneys and clients to present in court.
  • Client Communication and Legal Investigations – Highly skilled legal assistants carry out legal investigations supporting practicing attorneys. Legal investigations include:
    • Collecting relevant case data.
    • Interviewing clients and witnesses.
    • Preparing summaries or briefs to outline investigation results.
  • Drafting Legal Documents – Paralegals draft legal documents like motions and summary documents for presentation in court. They can also draft discovery documents, contracts, legal correspondence, affidavits, estate planning documents, and incorporation documents.

Licensed Paralegals who work without the supervision of a licensed attorney may have additional job duties as allowed or required by their license-issuing state.

How to Become a Paralegal in the US

The first step towards becoming a paralegal in the US is to research and understand the role.

Today’s paralegals carry out complex legal duties in support of licensed attorneys, including the following.

Get Paralegal Education

Getting the proper education to become a Licensed or Certified Paralegal is crucial for Paralegal hopefuls planning on entering the field.

Candidates can choose from certification-based programs or licensing programs offered by local community colleges, universities, vocational schools, or national Paralegal organizations.

Choose a Paralegal Specialty

New Paralegals who are serious about making a lifelong career out of their new profession add optional Paralegal specialties like litigation, corporate law, intellectual property law, contract law, family law, or labor and employment law.

Specializing in the most in-demand legal areas can boost a paralegal’s education, experience, and salary.

Get Paralegal Certification or Licensure

Today’s legal industry employers prefer to hire incoming paralegals with demonstrated competency in the field.

Most new Paralegals satisfy this requirement by completing a Paralegal certification program or applying for state licensure in one of the few states that directly licenses paralegals.

The most well-known national certification agencies for US-based Paralegals include the National Association of Legal Assistants and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.

Find a Paralegal Job

Today’s Paralegals are hired to work in some of the following locations:

  1. Law Firms – Most Paralegals initially find work in local law firms and begin their careers by providing services to licensed attorneys.
  2. Government Agencies – Paralegals can also provide legal services for local, state, and federal government agencies. Law clerks typically work on issues related to public interest law, criminal justice, environmental protection, or social services.
  3. Corporate Legal Departments – More Paralegals are finding work as support professionals in corporate legal departments nationwide. Certified Legal Assistants often handle in-house legal matters related to contracts, mergers, acquisitions, corporate compliance, and intellectual property laws.

Tips for Finding Work as a Certified Paralegal

Job-seeking legal aides can find work by applying to their law firm or agency of choice.

They can also find job listings on public job boards and through job support resources offered by agencies like the American Bar Association, National Association of Legal Assistants, and state-based Paralegal agencies or networks.

Paralegals who complete comprehensive training may also receive job placement assistance and support through their educational institution.

Many Legal Specialists are offered the opportunity to work for employers where they complete the hands-on training component of their academic programs.

Maintain Your Paralegal Credentials

Licensed and certified paralegals are required to periodically recertify their credentials.

For example, NALA-certified paralegals holding the CP credential are required to recertify every five years; otherwise, their certification will expire.

Recertification requirements for certified paralegals typically involve taking refresher courses on key legal topics and policies.

Certified and licensed paralegals are also introduced to the latest legal advances and procedures when they take Continuing Legal Education classes or participate in related recertification activities.


American Bar Association

National Association of Legal Assistants

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Frequently Asked Questions

What agencies certify Paralegals in the US?

The top national agencies that certify US paralegals include the National Association of Legal Assistants and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.

Both organizations provide certification credentials to candidates who complete ABA-approved paralegal training programs and similar legal programs that meet their certification criteria.

What are the most sought-after Paralegal certifications?

The most well-known paralegal certifications include the Paralegal Advanced Competency Examination (PACE) and the Certified Paralegal (CP) credential issued by NALA.

State-based bar associations and local paralegal associations may offer location-based credentials or state licenses that allow legal assistants to practice independently or under the supervision of a locally licensed attorney.

How long does it take to become a Paralegal?

The amount of time it takes to complete Paralegal training depends on factors like program type, certification type, and the length of programs.

Aspiring Paralegals can complete their education in as little as a few months up to four years, depending on whether they choose a two-year Associate’s degree program, a national certification program, or a four-year Bachelor’s degree program.

Chelsea Wilson

About Chelsea Wilson

Chelsea Wilson is the Community Relations Manager for Washington University School of Law’s distance learning LLM degree program, which provides foreign trained attorneys with the opportunity to earn a Master of Laws degree from a top-tier American university from anywhere in the world.

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