How to Become a Paralegal in New Jersey
Paralegals perform a wide range of tasks in support of lawyers, regardless of what area of law they specialize in. Just as lawyers specialize in one aspect of law, so will paralegals choose a specialty and receive training in that designated area of law. While their specific duties may vary depending on specialty, typical tasks of a paralegal may include the following:
- Gathering and arranging evidence
- Taking statements and affidavits
- Scheduling meetings, interviews and depositions with clients and witnesses
- Writing, researching and summarizing reports
- Maintaining and organizing documents in paper and computerized formats
Other duties may include helping the attorney in the courtroom by handling exhibits, reviewing transcripts and taking notes during a hearing or trial.
Steps to Become a Paralegal
To become a paralegal in New Jersey there are certain step you should take to ensure your success. Here’s a list of what you’ll need to do:
Decide on a law specialty.
Because there are many different types of law practices you’ll need to choose one in which to concentrate your studies, just as attorneys do.
Complete your education.
Although New Jersey has no specific degree requirements to become a paralegal this is a competitive field. The majority employed as paralegals have a Bachelor’s degree.
Although New Jersey state law does not require licensing or certification, many law firms require certification of their paralegal employees.
Do an internship.
This is often a mandatory part of your degree program, so you can earn experience in the field and credits at the same time. An internship will boost your chances of employment once you graduate.
Apply for entry-level positions.
After graduation you can begin working as a low-level paralegal and learn the ins and outs of working in a law firm. Once you have experience you can apply for more advanced positions.
Paralegal Education Requirements in New Jersey
Although there are no state minimum requirements for paralegals in New Jersey most attorneys require a degree from applicants. Although around 18 percent of paralegals hold a two-year associate’s degree, almost half have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, so planning for a four year degree may give you a competitive edge when it’s time to look for a job.
There is no licensure or certification requirement in New Jersey but most lawyers require it of their employees. Passing the voluntary exam given by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) or a similar national organization will demonstrate your knowledge and skills in your chosen field. Professional certifications are offered on several experience levels, and paralegals must complete continuing education units to keep certifications current and valid.
Paralegals in New Jersey earn more than the national average for the occupation, which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) cites as $49,500 annually.
The mean annual salary for the state is $57,540. Here are some mean annual salaries for cities in New Jersey, and the BLS says location, years of experience and education level attained also play a big part in determining salary. Keep in mind that those who earn higher salaries also hold a bachelor’s degree.
Career Opportunities in New Jersey
Most paralegals in New Jersey are employed in the Newark-Union metropolitan area. The majority work in law firms, and there are many large national firms with offices in New Jersey. Paralegals are also employed by insurance groups, corporations and financial institutions throughout the state.
Once you earn your bachelor’s degree and pass the certification exam, you’ll want to join associations that focus upon your profession. Continuing your education may also be necessary once you are employed, so you can stay current on changes and regulation updates to laws specific to your area of specialty. Here are two professional associations for paralegals in New Jersey:
- The Paralegal Association of New Jersey provides professional development and networking opportunities for paralegals. This group is affiliated with the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and gives access to events on the national scale as well.
- The South Jersey Paralegal Association has networking and mentoring opportunities, continuing education, and a certification program to help build credentials. This group is affiliated with the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) and also offers student membership.
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