California, like all other states, does not license paralegals. However, to become a paralegal in California, a person must hold a certificate or degree. Students find the time and effort they invest in their education worth it.
Certificate or Degree?
In 2000, California decided to semi-regulate this industry. The state passed a bill requiring paralegals to have some education. This formal training could be as simple as a certificate of completion or a formal college baccalaureate degree or better. As long as the American Bar Association approves the program, certificates of completion are acceptable. Any post-secondary institution degree requires at least four semesters or units in courses relating to law. These programs must be accredited by a national organization or the Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education. Holders of advanced degrees in any subject must work for one year under the supervision of a licensed attorney.
Continuing education is required to keep the trained professionals informed. Every two years these legal helpers must take eight hours of continuing education. The state requires four hours of ethics training to protect the public. Paralegals choose whatever subject they want for the remaining four hours. Students pick from state approved courses of general law or expand skills in specialized fields.
National certificates guarantee the holders have a certain level of knowledge and expertise in the field. Employing lawyers value and reward paralegals who take the time and make a financial investment to obtain these important acknowledgments. A Certified Legal Assistant and Registered Paralegal are two nationally recognized documents. The Certified Legal Assistant test takes two days; the National Association of Legal Assistants sets the requirements and fees. Every five years, holders of this designation are required to complete 50 hours of continuing education. This organization also offers five areas of expertise: business and organizations, real estate, civil litigation, estates and trusts and family law. The National Federation of Paralegal Association oversees the Registered Paralegal designation. After successfully passing the test, the certificate must be renewed every two years by completing 12 hours of continuing education.
Duties and Skills
Attorneys use paralegals to handle many of the endless details and paperwork processes of the legal profession. Researching laws and analyzing findings are as important as preparing legal documents and maintaining case files. A paralegal can do anything an attorney does except practice law, negotiate payments and accept clients.
Although it is easier if the person already possesses skills of reading, reasoning, listening and analyzing, these skills can be learned. Since much of the work deals with written documents, reading comprehension is extremely important. Understanding the written statements and what it means for the client is imperative for success in this field. By listening intently, these attorney assistants take accurate witness statements and follow complex instructions. Analyzing the client’s difficulties and pertinent laws helps paralegals find the best course of action.
These experts master the computer, clerical procedures, and local legal system. A computer offers instant access to online research and legal forms; both of these save valuable time and make work easier. Attorneys’ offices subscribe to online research databases allowing employees to find case law and legal precedents. Preparing legal documents is easy with specialized software programs where the client’s information only needs to be input once. The program automatically transfers the data. With training and experience, these legal helpers learn how the local and federal court systems work. Paralegals easily master filing wills for probate or other documents.
Becoming a paralegal in the state of California is easy and lucrative. A person simply locates a school accredited by the American Bar Association or offering a program recognized by the state. Even graduates with baccalaureate or other advanced degrees in any subject qualify if they get the appropriate work experience with a licensed attorney. With an average starting hourly wage of $18 an hour and increasing employment opportunities, this is a wonderful profession to join.