How to Become a Paralegal in Maryland
Lawyers rely on paralegals to supply research materials, keep case files in order and help write briefs and motions. As a paralegal you’ll interview clients and witnesses and support attorneys in court. The role of the paralegal is a valuable one throughout a law firm or office. If you want to become a paralegal in Maryland, here’s what you’ll need to know before you start researching accredited education programs.
How to Become a Paralegal
There are no set state requirements for paralegals in Maryland as far as education, but more and more it’s becoming standard for employers to hire paralegals who have earned a degree and sought professional certification.
Here are some steps to consider once you’ve decided a paralegal career is for you:
Decide to be a Paralegal
If you think you might be interested in a paralegal career you should evaluate your personal skills and aptitudes. You will need a logical and inquisitive mind to succeed as a paralegal, and your research abilities should be advanced. Here is a list of skills that will help any paralegal succeed on the job:
- Developed critical thinking skills
- Be highly organized
- Have good interpersonal communication skills
- Investigative talents
- Strong writing ability
- Computer research skills
A paralegal education will provide an understanding of these types of topics:
- Paralegal procedures
- Criminal law
- Legal research
- Civil practice
- Paralegal writing
- Law basics
Here are the degree options for your paralegal education:
Certificate: A six month to one year course of study focused solely on paralegal studies. This is recommended primarily for those who already have a degree, but who wish to change their focus to paralegal work.
Associate’s Degree: A two-year degree that will include paralegal studies core curriculum. These classes will also include reading, writing and research.
Bachelor’s Degree: Most paralegals enter the field with an associate’s degree, but a four-year bachelor’s is preferred by some law offices. These programs include focused paralegal studies classes as well as specialty courses and some liberal arts.
You will want to add a professional certification credential to your resume once you graduate from your college program. You’ll be required to pass a certifying exam issued by two associations: the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). Certification types include the following:
- Paralegal Core Competency Exam – Once you have passed, this examination and earned this designation you’ll show an employer that you take your chosen career seriously.
- Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam – After you pass the PCCE, and practice as a paralegal for a certain amount of time, you will want to sit for the PACE. These credentials will tell Maryland law firms that you not only have an education, but also the experience to contribute to the firm’s success.
- Certified Paralegal – Passing this exam allows you to say that you are a paralegal certified by NALA, and this basic professional credential is designed for entry-level and early-career paralegals.
- Advanced Paralegal Certification – This is the top certification available from NALA, and these credentials signify you have experience in the field.
Paralegal Salary and Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2019-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the national median annual salary for paralegals is $49,500, and the standard entry-level education includes earning an associate’s degree. The BLS projects a 15 percent growth rate for the profession through 2026.
Paralegals in Maryland earn an annual mean wage of $53,740 says the BLS, which is higher than the national average, but considering the state’s close proximity to Washington D.C., the cost of living may be higher and competition for jobs may also be higher. Those working in metropolitan areas, such as Baltimore, earned an annual mean wage of $54,780.
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