How to Become a Paralegal in California
By becoming a paralegal in California you’ll have access to many lucrative career opportunities, since this state has the highest number of paralegal jobs in the country. You’ll also be well paid since California ranks third among highest paralegal salaries.
According to California law, a paralegal is a non-lawyer who performs substantive legal work while being supervised by an attorney. A paralegal helps lawyers with many tasks in preparation for legal proceedings by managing cases, performing research, interviewing witnesses, communicating with clients and drafting and analyzing legal documents. However, they don’t give legal advice or represent clients in court.
Steps to Become a Paralegal
If a career as a paralegal in California interests you, you’ll need to do the following:
Find out what paralegals do.
Make sure a paralegal is the right job for you.
Connect with professional paralegals.
Get first-hand advice from paralegals associated with professional organizations like the Los Angeles Paralegal Association (LAPA).
Choose an educational program.
Make sure that your educational program meets the strict requirements for paralegals working in California.
Research job opportunities.
Private law firms employ the majority of paralegals. There also are jobs in large business and government agencies.
Get work experience.
Get basic experience through internships, entry-level administrative legal jobs or volunteering with pro bono organizations such as Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.
Find your first job.
With a solid education and some experience, you’ll be set to compete for one of the many paralegal jobs in California.
Education Requirements in California
California law mandates minimum educational requirements for paralegals. In California, a paralegal must have one of the following:
- A certificate of completion from a paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA)
- Completion of a bachelor’s or advanced degree in any field and one year experience working under the supervision of an attorney who has been an active member of the California State Bar for at least three years or has worked in the California state courts for at least three years, and a written declaration from the attorney
- A certificate of completion from a state-approved or accredited secondary institution that requires a minimum of 24 credits in law-related courses
Every two years, paralegals in California must certify completion of the following continuing education requirements with a supervising attorney:
- Four hours of continuing education in legal ethics
- Four hours of continuing education in either general law or an area of specialized law
In California, the following national certifications are voluntary:
- Professional Paralegal (PP) certification from the National Association of Legal Professionals (NALS)
- Core Registered Paralegal (CRP) certification earned by taking the Paralegal Core Competency Exam (PCCE) from the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- Registered Paralegal (RP) certification earned by taking the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) from NFPA
- Certified Paralegal (CP) or Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) certification from the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- Advanced Paralegal Certification (APC) from NALA for CP paralegals who master specific courses administered by NALA
Paralegal Licensure in California
There is no requirement for licensure to work as a paralegal in California, but because competition is high due to the volume of paralegals in the state, you should earn a degree in order to find the best opportunities.
Paralegal Salary in California
The mean annual wage for paralegals in California is $59,130, which is considerably higher than the national median annual wage of $49,500.
Some 29,190 paralegals are employed in California, making it the state with the highest employment level of paralegals. Paralegal jobs are expected to increase by 13 percent through 2026. The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale metropolitan area has the third highest level of employment for paralegals, with 8,690 of the state’s paralegals working there.
Many paralegals in California earn the highest wages for paralegals in the country since California ranks as the third highest-paying state for paralegals. California also is home to the first and second highest paying metropolitan area in the U.S., where paralegals in San Jose earn an annual mean wage of $75,290 and those in the San Francisco metropolitan area earn an annual mean wage of $74,830.
As a paralegal in California, you will benefit from joining professional organizations that offer opportunities for mentoring, professional development, certification preparation and volunteering in the state. There are many professional paralegal organizations in California, including the following:
- California Alliance of Paralegal Associations (CAPA), an alliance of 10 paralegal associations:
- Central Coast Paralegal Association (CCPA)
- Fresno Paralegal Association (FPA)
- Inland Counties Paralegal Association (ICPA)
- Kern County Paralegal Association (KCPA)
- Los Angeles Paralegal Association (LAPA)
- Paralegal Association of Santa Clara County (PASCCO)
- Redwood Empire Association of Paralegals (REAP)
- Sacramento Valley Paralegal Association (SVPA)
- San Diego Paralegal Association (SDPA)
- San Francisco Paralegal Association (SFPA)
- Sequoia Paralegal Association (SPA)
- Orange County Paralegal Association (OCPA), an affiliate of NALA
- Ventura County Paralegal Association (VCPA)
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