How to Become a Paralegal Specialist

A paralegal specialist has a prestigious position within a law firm.

While they must work under an attorney, they perform many legal duties on their own.

paralegal working

They are also responsible for supervising other paralegals in the firm.

What Is a Paralegal Specialist?

A paralegal specialist is a paralegal who has the education and experience to handle most legal tasks.

They work under the supervision of an attorney, who is ultimately responsible for their work.

However, they often spend most of their time working independently.

They may also be responsible for supervising other paralegals.

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The duties of a paralegal specialist include:

  • Legal research: researching case law, precedents, regulations, etc.
  • Creating legal documents: including motions, pleadings, contracts, confirmation letters, and correspondence.
  • Evaluating case files: identifying issues and the strength of a case
  • Summarizing: summarizing depositions, testimony, and interrogations
  • Attending legal proceedings: this may include real estate closings, court hearings, trials, and depositions
  • Communicate their findings: reporting findings to the attorney

Steps to Become a Paralegal Specialist

Becoming a paralegal specialist typically takes a few years.

You’ll need to start with education, then move on to certification and experience.

1. Education

There are no specific educational requirements to become a paralegal specialist.

However, most paralegals complete an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or legal studies.

You can earn an associate’s degree in two years, and a bachelor’s degree typically takes four years to complete.

You can also earn a certificate in paralegal studies, which typically takes 6 to 18 months to complete.

While not required in most states, most employers require you to have a degree or certificate in paralegal studies to be a paralegal specialist.

2. Certification

Certification isn’t a requirement for being a paralegal specialist in most states, but it does make you more attractive to potential employers.

Most employers will not hire you as a paralegal specialist without a certification.

3. Experience

Because a paralegal specialist is often responsible for many legal duties and other paralegals, you’ll need some experience as a paralegal before becoming a paralegal specialist.

Licensing Requirements to Become a Paralegal Specialist

If you plan to work in California, Utah, or Washington, you will need a paralegal certification.

In other states, licensing or certification isn’t required.

This is because paralegals are supervised by a licensed attorney.

Practically speaking, however, you’ll need a paralegal certification to become a paralegal specialist.

NALA Certification

Most paralegals choose NALA or the National Association of Legal Assistants.

There are three ways to qualify for the exam.

The first is to complete an approved training program.

These include a certificate program approved by the ABA, or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or legal studies.

You can also qualify if you have at least 5 years of paralegal experience.

Lastly, if you have a bachelor’s degree in any field you may qualify.

You’ll need one year of experience as a paralegal or 15 hours of paralegal courses.

Once you qualify, you’ll need to take an exam.

If you pass the exam, you are eligible for paralegal certification.

NFPA Certification

You can also get certified through the NFPA or the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.

The NFPA offers two certifications.

The first certification is the CRP or Core Registered Paralegal.

You’ll need to take the Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCE) to earn this certification.

You can qualify for this certification with an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies.

If you have a degree in another field, you must meet some additional requirements.

You can also qualify if you have 5 years of experience as a paralegal.

Paralegal specialists may need to earn their RP or Registered Paralegal certification.

You’ll need to pass the PACE exam for this certification.

To qualify, you’ll need a degree in paralegal studies and experience.

Experience requirements range from 2 to 7 years, depending on your education.

Online Training Programs

To become a paralegal specialist, an associate or bachelor’s degree is recommended.

National Paralegal College

National Paralegal College was founded in 2003.

They offer several certificates and degrees.

You can earn a paralegal certificate in just 7 months.

You’ll need a total of 24 credits.

This includes four core legal courses and four elective courses.

The Paralegal associate degree can be completed in 15 months, depending on your course load.

You’ll need a total of 60 credits to graduate.

This includes four core legal courses and 8 advanced or specialty legal courses.

You’ll also need 24 credits from other courses offered by the college, including 15 general education courses.

To earn your bachelor’s degree in legal studies, you’ll need a total of 120 credits.

This includes four core legal courses, 12 courses of advanced legal and specialty courses, and 72 credits from any course offered by the college, including 30 general education credits.

George Washington University College of Professional Studies

The George Washington University College of Professional Studies offers a certificate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in paralegal studies.

Each program is approved by the ABA or the American Bar Association.

The college has a strong professional network, including judges, lawyers, and legal experts.

This is one reason why graduates have a nearly 100% employment rate.

Washington Technical Institute

Washington Technical Institute offers a paralegal certificate course.

You can complete the course in just 4 months, and it requires 252 clock hours or 6 credits.

This is a great way to get started as a paralegal, but you’ll need more education to become a paralegal specialist.

National University

National University has been offering adult-focused education for more than 50 years.

They offer several degrees, including an Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies, a Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies, and a Bachelor of Arts in Pre-Law Studies.

They offer a unique course schedule. Instead of taking several courses at one time, you’ll take one course every 4 weeks.

This allows you to balance work and responsibilities while earning your education.

Rasmussen University

Rasmussen University offers two paralegal studies programs.

You can earn your Associate degree in Paralegal Studies or a post-degree certificate.

The college offers assessments that can allow you to earn credit for courses that you already understand without completing the course.

You can choose between a civil or criminal track.

You’ll complete a capstone course, which allows you to gain real-world experience.

Once you’ve completed the course, you are eligible to take the  CLA/CP certification exam.

National American University

National American University offers two degree programs.

You can choose an Associate of Applied Science degree in Paralegal Studies or a Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies.

The associate program can be completed in two years.

You’ll learn substantive and procedural law and how to apply legal theories to cases.

You’ll be able to communicate verbally and in writing effectively and understand how to behave professionally.

The bachelor’s program takes 4 years to complete.

This program is more in-depth and includes applying legal theories to cases, and how to utilize legal research.

After completing the program, you are eligible to take the NALA certification exam.

Both programs are ABA-approved.

Salary

The average salary for a paralegal specialist is $67,696.

Most salaries range from $57,000, which is the 25th percentile, to $78,500 for the 75th percentile.

Earners in the 90th percentile will earn an average of $94,000.

Salary Information by State

State Employed Avg. Annual Salary Avg. Hourly Pay Top 10% Annual Salary Bottom 10% Annual Salary
Alabama3,770$51,130$24.58$74,640$31,200
Alaska740$63,580$30.57$94,120$43,110
Arizona7,110$61,300$29.47$84,100$35,310
Arkansas2,160- NA -- NA -- NA -- NA -
California37,270$76,080$36.58$109,340$46,730
Colorado5,750$68,920$33.13$99,060$45,510
Connecticut4,860$67,310$32.36$91,590$46,350
Delaware1,760$68,340$32.86$99,100$41,350
District of Columbia5,580$91,880$44.17$124,650$56,780
Florida36,060$56,650$27.24$78,440$37,370
Georgia12,510$57,890$27.83$87,660$29,820
Hawaii1,150$59,690$28.70$82,310$42,270
Idaho1,500$49,930$24.00$66,940$27,100
Illinois12,370$63,590$30.57$97,100$38,060
Indiana5,590$54,080$26.00$81,840$34,820
Iowa2,570$58,310$28.04$79,260$38,260
Kansas2,680$53,440$25.69$79,630$34,710
Kentucky2,800$51,020$24.53$73,780$35,620
Louisiana5,250$52,760$25.36$75,100$35,380
Maine940$56,110$26.97$71,460$46,550
Maryland7,040$62,880$30.23$88,670$39,250
Massachusetts7,490$71,670$34.46$103,000$40,760
Michigan7,440$58,400$28.08$81,560$38,500
Minnesota6,140$63,450$30.51$94,910$39,790
Mississippi1,950$46,060$22.15$63,840$31,990
Missouri5,930$58,040$27.91$79,830$36,920
Montana1,320$58,190$27.98$79,520$41,900
Nebraska1,720$56,510$27.17$79,600$38,880
Nevada3,190$60,860$29.26$89,690$41,600
New Hampshire1,310$56,530$27.18$81,100$37,890
New Jersey9,580$65,570$31.52$96,480$38,650
New Mexico1,850$51,420$24.72$70,010$37,660
New York30,020$69,860$33.59$103,890$45,720
North Carolina12,290$56,120$26.98$81,310$35,920
North Dakota580$54,090$26.00$75,500$39,360
Ohio8,200$55,320$26.60$78,490$36,700
Oklahoma2,840$51,430$24.73$74,590$34,080
Oregon4,790$66,250$31.85$86,420$46,090
Pennsylvania11,390$64,730$31.12$92,560$39,460
Rhode Island1,320- NA -- NA -- NA -- NA -
South Carolina6,150$52,060$25.03$65,960$37,300
South Dakota500$55,290$26.58$68,120$44,300
Tennessee4,740$54,290$26.10$82,600$34,330
Texas24,600$59,970$28.83$94,540$36,300
Utah4,080$56,040$26.94$78,830$35,660
Vermont640$61,210$29.43$74,930$48,020
Virginia10,470$60,570$29.12$83,650$35,530
Washington8,020$72,590$34.90$106,510$47,960
West Virginia1,990$50,380$24.22$77,230$28,760
Wisconsin4,840$54,880$26.39$78,420$37,460
Wyoming400$52,500$25.24$65,150$36,110
Guam80$40,810$19.62$55,930$29,450
Puerto Rico710$45,220$21.74$65,670$30,560
Virgin Islands70$54,500$26.20$70,620$43,880

Annual Average Salary: Top 10 States

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $91,880.

These are the top 10 earning states in the field:

  • District of Columbia - $91,880
  • California - $76,080
  • Washington - $72,590
  • Massachusetts - $71,670
  • New York - $69,860
  • Colorado - $68,920
  • Delaware - $68,340
  • Connecticut - $67,310
  • Oregon - $66,250
  • New Jersey - $65,570
* Salary information based on the May 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Paralegals and Legal Assistants, OCC Code 23-2011, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

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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