How to Become a Paralegal in Pennsylvania
Paralegals perform a valuable service to attorneys, their clients and the legal system. They work as sometimes unsung assistants to lawyers and other legal professionals, taking on tasks that include the following:
- Drafting legal documents
- Doing comprehensive legal research
- Maintaining files and databases of legal information
- Assisting lawyers in court
The demand for paralegals in Pennsylvania is strong, and there is a relatively low bar set for entry into the profession. If you are looking for a stable and lucrative career path that also offers opportunity, here’s what it takes to become a paralegal.
Steps to Become a Paralegal in Pennsylvania
It may seem like it doesn’t take a lot to begin working as a paralegal in Pennsylvania, but in order to ensure that you’re on track for long-term career success, you will want to take the following steps before you start your job search:
Learn More About Life as a Paralegal
Spend some time learning about the day-to-day responsibilities of a paralegal, and if possible, speak directly to a practicing professional. That way you can be confident this is a type of work you want to do for years to come.
Get the Right Kind of Education
The more education you have initially, the more likely you are to get job offers and to excel in your role starting on day one.
Think about Your Long-Term Plans
There are opportunities to work as a paralegal all over the state of Pennsylvania, and in a wide variety of different legal settings. Decide what you really want out of your paralegal career, and direct your initial job search accordingly.
Paralegal Education Requirements in Pennsylvania
It is not required for paralegals in Pennsylvania to meet any standards for education and experience before beginning work. However, recommendations have been established as a norm, and any paralegal who meets one of the following standards is likely to have much more success finding a job:
- A bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies along with one year of work experience
- A bachelor’s degree in any subject along with a paralegal certificate and one year of work experience
- A bachelor’s degree in any subject and three years of work experience
- An associate’s degree in paralegal studies and five years of work experience
- A certificate from a paralegal program and five years of work experience
Earning Professional Certification in Pennsylvania
It is highly recommended that future paralegals earn professional certification issued by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). You must pay a fee and pass a rigorous exam in order to earn these voluntary professional designations. Certification must be renewed every two years and requires paralegals to complete continuing education courses.
Paralegal Salary in Pennsylvania
On a national level, the median annual salary for paralegals is $49,500, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Enterprising paralegals in the top 10 percent of the field who have attained more education or have several years of experience, earned upward of $80,260.
Paralegals tend to earn more in metropolitan areas where the cost of living may be higher. For example, the state of Pennsylvania has a mean annual wage of $53,380 for paralegals, which is higher than the national average, but paralegals working in Pittsburgh earned even more: $57,210 yearly says the BLS and $56,800 in Philadelphia.
Paralegal Career Opportunities in Pennsylvania
There are estimated to be 10,800 paralegals working in Pennsylvania, a figure higher than most other states says the BLS. In fact, Philadelphia is the fifth largest metropolitan area with the highest concentration of paralegal jobs in the country, says the BLS. Nationwide, the demand for paralegals is projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to grow by 15 percent through 2026, higher than the national average for all other professions.
Demand in Pennsylvania specifically is projected to grow by nine percent over the same period. Paralegals typically work for law firms, large companies, or government agencies, but opportunities may vary depending upon the area of law in which you choose to specialize.
Final Steps for Success as a Paralegal
It is important for any paralegal to pursue continuing education and professional development. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the National Federation of Paralegal Association (NFPA) both have valuable resources to offer, including nationally recognized certification programs. The state and national Bar Association can also be a professional asset to any paralegal. In general, paralegals will need to pick up new skills and specialties, network with other legal professionals, and stay up-to-date about the issues affecting paralegals specifically, and the legal profession as a whole.
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