An individual should earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in paralegal studies or a certificate to gain employment with a law firm, legal department or public defender's office. In some cases, employers may provide on-the-job training to employees who hold a bachelor's degree in an unrelated field.
Many community colleges and universities provide degree programs in paralegal studies. For those who have a bachelor's degree in an unrelated field, paralegal studies certification programs provide training in legal research, computer software, legal writing and other topics. Many certification programs take a few months to complete. After completing a degree or certificate program, paralegals typically complete a one-year internship with a law firm or government office to gain practical experience.
Those who have little or no paralegal training, but who want to work in a specific area of law, such as business, personal injury or child welfare law, should complete additional coursework in business administration, nursing or psychology. Some employers provide paralegal training to those with technical experience in specific fields.
To advance, paralegals should continue taking courses and earning additional certificates to prove competency. Paralegals may earn promotions that include leading paralegal teams, training new paralegals or working on specialized cases.