How to Advance Your Legal Career From a Paralegal Role

Becoming a paralegal is a rewarding career path that is both a fulfilling job on its own and a great entry point into the law profession. In fact, many paralegals go on to become lawyers themselves. For those interested in the field of law or anyone looking to become an attorney in the future, becoming a paralegal is the best way to gain crucial experience.

What does the career path for a paralegal look like? What exactly do paralegals do, and where do they work? And what can you do to advance your career as a paralegal? Let’s take a closer look at this fascinating profession.

Working as a paralegal can be a rewarding career path. But it can also serve as an excellent springboard for advancing into other legal roles. With the right skills, experience, and strategy, paralegals have opportunities to grow professionally.

In this article we’ll explore proven tips for furthering your legal career from a paralegal position.

Options for Advancing Your Paralegal Career

Paralegals have a variety of options for professional growth and career advancement. Typical paths include:

  • Transitioning into paralegal management roles like supervisor, manager, or director
  • Specializing in high-demand practice areas like litigation, corporate law, or intellectual property
  • Becoming a subject matter expert in specialized legal work like contracts, compliance, or discovery
  • Switching into other legal roles like court reporter, legal nurse consultant, or alternative dispute resolution specialist
  • Moving into in-house paralegal positions at law firms or corporate legal departments
  • Obtaining advanced paralegal certifications to increase skills and earning potential
  • Continuing education to become a lawyer or legal nurse consultant

Ambitious paralegals can move up within their current organization or pivot to expand their career possibilities

Getting the Right Education

Further education expands your skillset and prepares you for more advanced roles. Options include:

  • Bachelor’s degree – A 4-year degree makes you qualified for higher level paralegal positions. Criminal justice, pre-law, or political science majors are helpful.

  • Paralegal certificate – Post-bachelor’s certificates provide focused paralegal training and credentials.

  • Master’s degree – A graduate degree in legal studies is preferred for paralegal managers and subject matter experts.

  • Law degree (JD) – Graduating law school allows you to become a licensed lawyer. Many paralegals become lawyers by attending law school part-time.

Continuing your paralegal education demonstrates commitment and gives you knowledge to take on greater responsibilities.

Expanding Your Skillset

Well-rounded skills expand your versatility making you a prime candidate for promotion. Useful skills to build include:

  • Technical expertise – Master legal software, databases, transcription, and e-discovery tools.

  • Research skills – Improve investigation methods and analysis to become a valuable legal researcher.

  • Communication abilities – Polish writing and client interaction skills through experience.

  • Specialized knowledge – Develop deep understanding of specific practice areas and legal specialities.

  • Leadership qualities – Demonstrate project management, team building, and decision-making abilities.

Broadening your capabilities in high-demand areas makes you an indispensable employee.

Earning Advanced Certifications

Certifications verify your advanced expertise to employers:

  • NALA’s Certified Paralegal (CP) credential shows mastery of core paralegal skills.

  • NALA’s Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) credential requires 5 years of experience plus difficult exams.

  • NFPA’s Professional Paralegal (PP) certification has a high-level exam and education requirements.

  • NFPA’s Professional Paralegal – Advanced (PACE) certification is an upper tier credential.

These designations can boost job prospects and pay potential. Many employers provide tuition assistance for certifications that increase your value.

Gaining Specialized Legal Experience

Look for opportunities to gain experience in growth-oriented practice areas:

  • Litigation – Develop case management and trial preparation skills.

  • Corporate/business law – Learn transactional support, compliance, and contract expertise.

  • Intellectual property – Build knowledge of patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets.

  • E-discovery – Improve your skills in electronic discovery review and document management.

  • Personal injury law – Handle client intake, evidence gathering, and settlement preparation.

Targeted experience makes you stand out when seeking leadership roles or lateral moves into legal specialities.

Moving Into Paralegal Management

With proven skills and experience, paralegals can advance into supervisory and management positions like:

  • Paralegal Supervisor – Oversee and direct paralegal teams and workflow.

  • Paralegal Manager – Responsible for hiring, training, and managing department paralegals.

  • Director of Paralegals – Strategic planning and top-level management of the paralegal function.

These roles allow you to take charge of your career growth. Leadership abilities, communication style, and problem-solving skills are key to earning promotions into management.

Switching Legal Career Tracks

Some paralegals leverage their expertise to transition into alternative legal roles such as:

  • Compliance officer – Responsible for ensuring organizational adherence to regulations.

  • Court reporter – Create word-for-word transcriptions of legal proceedings.

  • Legal nurse consultant – Provide medical analysis and expertise related to legal cases.

  • Legal analyst – Research and analyze case law, precedents, and regulatory issues.

  • Alternative dispute resolution specialist – Facilitate mediation and arbitration between disputing parties.

Paralegal skills translate well into many legal support functions. Explore lateral moves that match your interests and qualifications.

Moving to In-House Positions

In-house paralegal roles within law firms and corporations provide new challenges:

  • Law firm paralegal – Support attorneys handling various cases and practice areas.

  • Corporate paralegal – Handle legal work related to business operations and transactions.

  • Government agency paralegal – Assist government lawyers and handle matters related to the agency’s mission.

These roles allow you to specialize and work closely with attorneys on substantive legal work. In-house paralegals often enjoy good work-life balance, competitive pay, and excellent benefits.

Create an Advancement Action Plan

Progress doesn’t happen by accident. To advance your career from paralegal roles:

  • Identify specific positions and organizations you want to work towards.

  • Talk to mentors and advisors to get their insights.

  • Determine the experience, education, and skills you need to develop.

  • Seek growth opportunities like specialized projects, lateral moves, or certifications.

  • Set measurable goals and timeframes for achieving milestones.

  • Update your resume, portfolio, and professional profiles to showcase your expanded capabilities.

With dedication and strategic planning, paralegals can build rewarding long-term careers and become leaders in the legal field.

The specialized skills and legal experience gained as a paralegal provide the perfect foundation for advancing your career. Whether you aspire to manage a team of paralegals, specialize in a key practice area, or transition into a new legal role, you can follow proven steps to achieve your professional goals. Use this guide to help map out a fulfilling career path that leverages your paralegal background.

how to advance career from paralegal

What Is a Paralegal?

Paralegals are highly trained assistants who support lawyers. Their job is to support lawyers or teams of lawyers throughout the legal process, from initial research all the way through to trial. It’s important to note that paralegals do not provide legal advice to clients; that’s the job of the lawyer themselves. But aside from providing legal advice and representing clients in court, paralegals often perform many of the same tasks that lawyers do.

Note that paralegals are not legal assistants—legal assistants deal with the administrative side of the legal process, and while paralegals may perform various administrative duties, they are more focused on the legal side of the profession versus the administrative side.

Where Do Paralegals Work?

There are a variety of settings in which a paralegal can work. Law firms are the obvious place of employment, and most paralegals do work for firms—about 67 percent of paralegals work in law firms, according to the National Association of Legal Assistants. But a paralegal’s options aren’t limited to law firms alone. Here are some of the main places in which paralegals work:

While the term “large” is somewhat subjective—a large firm in a small city would not be considered “large” in a city like New York or Chicago—many paralegals work in large firms as a part of paralegal teams. Some large firms even have entire paralegal departments overseen by paralegal managers or supervisors. Paralegals working for large firms will usually enjoy perks like state-of-the-art equipment, research technology, and extensive law libraries.

Many paralegals work in smaller or mid-size firms as well. In this setting, a paralegal may work for only one lawyer rather than a team of lawyers, and they may have one or two paralegal coworkers instead of a team of paralegals. In the smallest of firms, a paralegal may work alone with just one lawyer. It all depends on the firm itself and the lawyer’s needs.

Many large corporations have their own in-house legal departments, and those departments include paralegals as well as lawyers. Paralegals working in corporate settings may deal with compliance issues, government regulations, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) cases, and much more. Usually, paralegals working for corporations enjoy set hours, just like other types of office jobs—there is no billing a client for hours like there would be in a private firm.

Most government agencies, especially at the federal and state level, have their own legal departments. On the federal side, paralegals can work for agencies like the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many others. You could also work in the federal court system as a part of the District Attorney’s office or for a public defender. At the state level, you might work for state governmental agencies or the state’s District Attorney’s office.

Another area in which paralegals can find rewarding work is in the non-profit sector. Whether it’s an environmental advocacy group or an organization fighting for social justice, paralegals can gain critical experience while helping advance a cause they’re passionate about. Major advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) employ paralegals, but there are plenty of smaller non-profit organizations that need legal help as well.

How To Land Your First Job As A Paralegal even with ZERO Experience: Tips from a Lawyer

How to become a good paralegal?

3. Become a more effective communicator. Communication skills are critical when it comes to a successful legal career. By improving your written and verbal communication skills, you can become a more effective paralegal. You communicate in many ways to various stakeholders.

Why should you become a paralegal?

Make industry advancements: While getting a start as a paralegal can be a great career choice, becoming a high-level legal official can allow you a greater influence over policy and law. This can help you make impactful changes in legal systems like criminal justice, international affairs and employment law.

How do I make a career change after being a paralegal?

Here are seven steps to help you make a successful career change after being a paralegal: 1. Think about your interests Spend time evaluating what you enjoy and hope to gain from a new career.

How can i Improve my paralegal career?

1. Commit to continuous learning. No matter where you are in your career, you can always learn new things and develop new skills. By embracing a growth mindset, it’s possible to become more effective in your role, which can lead to advancement in your paralegal career. There are several ways you can foster continuous learning.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *