How to Become a Paralegal in 2023

Paralegals function in a supportive capacity, performing tasks that help attorneys better serve their clients. Whether working in a private law firm or in government, paralegals may help lawyers improve their practice. 

There’s an increasing demand for paralegals. As of 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates that employment of paralegals and legal assistants will increase 4% through 2032, which is much faster than the national average.

There’s no single pathway to becoming a paralegal. Here, we’ll break down different paralegal requirements that may help you prepare for a paralegal career:

Step 1. Fulfill Paralegal Education Requirements
Step 2. Determine a Specialty
Step 3. Complete a Paralegal Certification (Recommended)
Step 4. Meet State-Level Paralegal Requirements (Optional)
Step 5. Gain Paralegal Experience and Find a Job

Pepperdine University

Caruso School of Law


Master of Legal Studies

The online Master of Legal Studies program from Pepperdine Caruso School of Law. No GRE or LSAT scores are required to apply.

  • No GRE or LSAT scores required to apply 
  • Complete in as few as 12 months 
  • Dispute resolution concentration available

American University

Washington College of Law


Master of Legal Studies

American University’s online Master of Legal Studies program prepares students to apply legal concepts to their everyday role. The program can be completed in 12 months. No GRE/LSAT required to apply.

  • Complete in as few as 12 months 
  • No GRE/LSAT scores required to apply 
  • Four tracks available: General MLS, Business, Health Care Compliance, and Technology 
  • Three certificates available: Business, Health Care Compliance, and Technology


Steps to Become a Paralegal

Below, you’ll find some common steps you may take to become a paralegal. Familiarity with the prerequisites for paralegal roles can help you better prepare for a career in the field

Paralegals are not licensed at the national level. With the exception of a few states, paralegals are not regulated at the state level either. While it is not required in every state, several professional organizations do provide paralegal certification.

In the absence of state and federal regulations, employers establish the hiring standards for paralegals. At the most basic level, you typically must have some formal education to become a paralegal. You may consider earning one of the following:

  • An associate degree in paralegal studies. An associate degree generally takes about two years to complete. The minimum admissions requirements vary from school to school, but typically includes a high school diploma.
  • A bachelor’s degree in legal studies or a related field. A bachelor’s degree typically takes four years to complete. Employers may prefer applicants to have a bachelor’s degree, which can be in a subject other than paralegal studies, according to the BLS.
  • A master’s degree in legal studies. If you’ve already earned a bachelor’s degree, you may want to consider a master’s degree. A master’s degree in legal studies (MLS) may cover topics such as negotiation, intellectual property law, employment law, legal writing and trial advocacy, preparing graduates to take on a variety of tasks as a paralegal or other legal professional.

If you want to make a career change or have unique scheduling needs, you may consider enrolling in an online Master of Legal Studies program, which grants you the flexibility to pursue a degree while working.

As you map out your graduate degree pathway, you may choose to explore programs approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). The Directory of ABA Approved Paralegal Education Programs can help you evaluate options and consider common paralegal requirements.

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Step 2. Determine a Specialty

There are a number of specializations to choose from when considering your path to becoming a paralegal. If you’re interested in pursuing a master’s degree, you may select one of the numerous legal studies concentrations offered by programs across the country, allowing you to specialize in a specific area of law. Different concentrations can lead to different careers. For instance:

  • Litigation paralegals work with trial attorneys throughout various phases of a trial, from investigations to pleadings and discovery.
  • Government paralegals work with regulatory agencies, law enforcement or politicians.
  • Estate planning and probate paralegals communicate with families, tax auditors and trustees in handling estates.
  • Labor law paralegals work on issues between employers and employees, such as discrimination or poor working conditions.

If you’re not interested in a career in government, you may pursue jobs in real estate, hospitals, social work, human resources or other fields in the private sector. Of course, paralegals can be found working at law firms or corporations as well.

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Step 3. Complete a Paralegal Certification (Recommended)

Beyond your education, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) recommends that you complete a certifying examination to receive paralegal certification. Paralegal certifications are available through a number of professional organizations. Your options for paralegal certifications include, but are not limited to:

While certification is not required to be a paralegal, you may benefit by pursuing it. As noted by the ABA, certification may enhance your employment prospects. That’s because, for some employers, certification demonstrates your competency in and commitment to your chosen field.

Aside from certification, NALA suggests professional standards for paralegals. Some employers use NALA’s set of standards as a rubric in assessing a paralegal’s preparedness. These qualifications are not a requisite and are simply intended to demonstrate—both to the attorney and the public—that you have a formal legal education and have received broad exposure to the issues you may encounter as a paralegal.

Each certification has its own criteria for continuing education and renewal. Review the requirements and choose a certification that best aligns with your goals.

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Step 4. Meet State-Level Paralegal Requirements (Optional)

Those who want to become a paralegal may also consider state-level certifications, most of which are voluntary and issued by local paralegal associations. 

Certain states, including California, Florida, Texas and Utah, have state-specific certification requisites. Because of that, it’s critical to confirm paralegal requirements for the state where you intend to work.

Of course, you’ll want to double-check the latest information for the state where you want to practice. To find a complete list of paralegal certifications by state, check our guide on paralegal certifications.

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Step 5. Gain Paralegal Experience and Find a Job

Some accredited degree programs help students find an internship. This internship experience allows students to apply theoretical knowledge to a practical setting, demonstrating their understanding of legal precepts and their ability to function as a real-world paralegal. Internships may also provide students with opportunities to network and potentially earn full-time employment post-graduation.

Upon graduating, paralegals may have a myriad of job options available to them, including working for banks, insurance companies, trade organizations, private law firms or in the legal departments of large corporations. Within the public sector, paralegals may choose to work for state and federal government agencies, public defenders’ offices, district attorneys’ offices and consumer organizations.

Experienced paralegals might want to continue their education or pursue new certifications with the goal of vying for more advanced positions or being entrusted with more job responsibilities.

Learn more about how to pursue a career in law and become a paralegal with the guide: What Can You Do With a Master’s in Legal Studies?

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What Does a Paralegal Do?

So, what does a paralegal do? The work paralegals do can be complex and quite extensive, requiring a thorough understanding of law. Attorneys rely on their paralegals, and the success of a case is most often a team effort between the attorney and their support staff.

Paralegal responsibilities may include:

  • Preparing an attorney for a hearing or trial by investigating the facts of the case.
  • Conducting background research.
  • Collecting and organizing documents directly relevant to the case.
  • Researching prior legal cases to help establish precedent.
  • Drafting motions, plea agreements and writing reports.
  • Conducting interviews with witnesses or clients.
  • Preparing contracts, mortgages, wills and other civil documents.
  • Acting as a liaison between attorney and client by maintaining communication and helping to prepare the client.

Although paralegals are legal professionals, there are some tasks that are beyond the scope of their duties and are reserved for the attorneys who oversee their work. Generally, paralegals are prohibited from “practicing law.” In other words, they are not permitted to perform tasks that require a legal license. Providing legal advice, deciding which cases are accepted or denied and representing clients at a hearing or trial are all beyond a paralegal’s purview.

Skills Required for Paralegals 

Paralegals use a combination of hard and soft skills to get their work done. Continually developing such skills may prove beneficial to your career. Whether you’re pursuing a master’s degree in legal studies or a certification, be sure to familiarize yourself with in-demand paralegal skills. Here are some common skills paralegals use:

  • Organization skills
  • Legal research
  • Reading comprehension
  • Active listening
  • Judgment and decision-making
  • Legal writing
  • Critical thinking
  • Emotional intelligence 
  • Complex problem-solving
  • Public speaking

Eager to sharpen your skills? You can browse our collection of online resources for paralegals to explore certification options, catch up on the latest legal trends and more.

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FAQ on Becoming a Paralegal

Still wondering what it takes to become a paralegal? Check out the answers to some common questions.

What qualifications do you need to be a paralegal?

Paralegals typically have an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or a related field. You may also consider a master’s degree in legal studies depending on your career goals. While the paralegal profession isn’t nationally regulated, you may need to fulfill requirements in the state where you want to practice. You could also benefit from gaining certification from a professional organization.

How long does it take to become a paralegal?

It can take anywhere between two and seven years to become a paralegal, depending on where you are in your journey and what degree you want to pursue. An associate degree usually takes two years to complete, a bachelor’s takes four years and a master’s generally takes two years. On top of that, you’ll need to factor in the time needed to prepare for and pass paralegal certifications if you choose to earn them.

How can I become a paralegal online?

You may consider online or hybrid degree programs. Options include online paralegal programs as well as online master’s in legal studies programs. There are also programs that offer legal certificates, some of which can be completed fully online and in less time than a full degree program.

How can I become a paralegal with a bachelor’s degree?

You can become a paralegal whether you’ve earned or are planning to earn a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or otherwise. But keep your background and career goals in mind. You can pursue a master’s in legal studies to expand your knowledge and professional opportunities if you don’t have a background in the discipline. If you have adequate knowledge, you may consider obtaining legal certifications.

Last updated September 2023.

This page includes information from O*NET OnLine by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA). Used under the CC BY 4.0 license. O*NET® is a trademark of USDOL/ETA.