How to Become a Paralegal in Indiana
Paralegals are often the unsung heroes of the law office. But, without paralegals, the attorney couldn’t find the time it takes to research a case law, interview subjects, draft documents and file legal papers with the court. If performing these sorts of tasks sounds interesting and you live in Indiana state, then keep reading to learn what you’ll need to do to become a paralegal in Indiana.
Steps to Becoming a Paralegal
There is no set way to become a paralegal in Indiana. There are no state or federal requirements and no governing body that insists on specific education or experience. However, the better you plan your approach to your education and career, the more likely you’ll be valued as an employee on a legal team.Here are a few steps to take along the path to a paralegal career:
Is the Paralegal Profession for You?
Here are some questions to ask yourself and consider prior to enrolling in a school program:
Am I a Critical Thinker? If you enjoy researching facts, or are keen on solving puzzles and other logic problems, you might have the core characteristics of a critical thinker.
Do I Enjoy Research? Paralegals spend a lot of time researching case law or combing through spreadsheets looking for discrepancies. You should enjoy solving a mystery and sifting through law books and case files.
Am I Organized? Often, the job of organizing all of the case materials falls upon the paralegal.
Am I Ethical? Though you will not be licensed by a state agency, you will still need to abide by a set of ethics. When you join a state or national paralegal association, they have a set of ethical guidelines their members must follow.
Though you will not need a specific degree to become a paralegal, you will find it far easier to land a job with a specialized degree or certificate. Since the legal profession is inherently academic, your educational background will be very important when it comes to landing your first position. There are three main levels of education to consider:
A certificate program is a great way for a person who has already earned a degree to return to school and receive the skills needed to pursue a paralegal position. Certificates generally take anywhere from six months to a year to complete, so certificates can be earned relatively quickly. If you don’t have a degree, you may still enroll in a certificate program.
An associate’s degree is a great option for someone taking a first step towards a job with a law firm. You will have to take core courses, but keep in mind that the skills required in each course will be needed in your work for a firm three general skills will be part of your professional life as a paralegal.
At some point, a four-year degree may soon be the standard for all Indiana paralegals. Even if you find work with an associate’s degree, consider finishing up a four-year degree at night or online.
Online Paralegal Education
These days, you can study to become a paralegal online. This is a great advantage for those who want to dive into work for a law firm before completing their degrees. You can arrange to work on your courses at night or in your free time. As you gain experience at work, you can apply your knowledge from school – and vice versa.
Find a Specialty
If you already know what area of law you’d like to specialize in, then you are ahead of the game. There are many specialty areas to consider in law so if, for instance, you know that you want to focus on elder law, you could take classes in your degree program that focus on gerontology. Here is a brief list of specialties you might consider:
- Elder Law
- Criminal Law
- Immigration Law
- Environmental Law
- Wills and Trusts
- Intellectual Property Law
- Contracts Law
- Labor Law
- Civil Rights
You become certified by a professional association who certifies you after you pass a rigorous examination. Two national associations have exams that you should consider earning:
National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) Certification
- Paralegal Core Competency Exam –Passing this exam and earning this credential will verify that your skills meet a higher standard.
- Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam – After you have passed the PCCE and practiced as a paralegal for a few years, you will want to sit for the PACE. These credentials will tell Indiana firms that you not only have the education, but also the depth of experience it takes to succeed as a paralegal in their practice.
National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) Certification
- Certified Paralegal – Once you have passed this exam, you can say that you are certified by NALA, a prestigious designation in the legal field.
- Advanced Paralegal Certification – This is the top certification available from NALA, and your earning this credential will demonstrate your dedication to the profession.
Salary and Outlook
The demand for paralegals is projected to grow by 15 percent through 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which is higher than the national average for all professions. Many law firms, in cost-cutting measures, are hiring more paralegals than attorneys.
The BLS says the median annual salary for paralegals is $49,500, and the standard entry-level education was an associate’s degree. The top 10 percent in the field earned over $80,260 and location, years of experience and education may contribute to this salary level.
The BLS says paralegals in Indiana earned an annual mean wage of $45,560, and those working in the metropolitan area of Indianapolis earned $50,400 annually.
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