How Long Does It Take to Become a Paralegal?

Discover how to become a paralegal. Learn about salary expectations, career growth, and various specializations in this profession.
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Updated on March 25, 2024
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If you're drawn to the legal world, a career as a paralegal might be a great fit for you. But how long does it take to become a paralegal? The answer to this question varies, but it can range from less than a year to four years or more, depending on your experience, educational pathway, and whether you pursue additional certifications.

This article will guide you through the ins and outs of becoming a paralegal, from salary expectations to career growth opportunities to the potential pros and cons of this profession.

Timeline to Becoming a Paralegal

Your journey to becoming a paralegal can take anywhere from a couple of months to four years, depending on the educational path you choose. Here are general timelines for different levels of training:

Several weeks to a year

Paralegal Certificate Program

About 2 years

Associate Degree in Paralegal or Legal Studies

About 4 years

Bachelor's Degree in Paralegal or Legal Studies

These timelines vary based on factors like your specific program requirements and whether you study on a full-time or part-time basis. Additionally, if you choose to pursue paralegal certification, you'll need time to prepare for and take the relevant exam. With dedication and hard work, you can become a paralegal and embark on a rewarding career in the legal field.

Featured Online Associate in Paralegal Studies Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

The Paralegal Career in a Nutshell

Being a paralegal offers many opportunities for career growth. After gaining some experience, you can move up within your organization, expand your legal knowledge, earn a higher salary, and even specialize in certain areas of the law. Plus, the job outlook is positive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 4% growth in paralegal and legal assistant jobs between 2022 and 2032.

As a paralegal, you can expect to earn competitive wages. For example, the BLS reports that the median annual salary for paralegals and legal assistants is $59,200. Of course, your salary will vary based on factors like your location, experience, area of specialization, and employer size. For instance, paralegals working in larger law firms or major cities often earn more.

Working as a paralegal has its benefits, including job stability, a good salary, a variety of work, and opportunities for career progression, but it's not without its challenges. The role can involve long hours, high stress levels, limited job autonomy, and the need for continual learning to keep up with evolving legal changes. It's important to weigh these pros and cons when considering a career as a paralegal.

Types of Paralegals

Paralegals often specialize in different areas of the law. Common types of paralegals include the following:

  • Corporate Paralegals
  • Estate Planning and Probate Paralegals
  • Family Law Paralegals
  • Government Paralegals
  • Immigration Paralegals
  • Intellectual Property Paralegals
  • Litigation Paralegals
  • Real Estate Paralegals

Deciding on a Paralegal Specialization

Choosing a paralegal specialization involves considering your interests, strengths, and prior job experience, as well as trends in the job market. Gaining hands-on experience through internships or volunteering in different legal settings can also help guide your decision.

General Requirements to Become a Paralegal

Becoming a paralegal typically involves a mix of education, training, and work experience. While requirements vary by state and employer, most paralegals follow a general path to enter the profession. This path often includes completing an educational program in paralegal studies, earning certification, gaining hands-on experience, specializing in a particular area of law, and engaging in ongoing education.


Your education is a crucial step on the journey to becoming a paralegal. Depending on the pathway you choose, you could be preparing for your new career in a few months or several years. The level of education you pursue can also impact the jobs you qualify for.

  • Paralegal Certificate Program: Ranging in length from 4-6 weeks, this type of program can be a quick way to kickstart your career. After earning a paralegal certificate, you can work as a paralegal in various settings, such as law firms, government agencies, and corporate legal departments. Individuals with a degree in another subject but want to transfer into the legal field often choose this option.
  • Associate in Paralegal Studies: This degree generally requires about two years of full-time study. Associate programs provide foundational knowledge in legal topics like legal research, writing, and ethics. With an associate degree in paralegal studies, you can work as a paralegal, legal assistant, or in similar roles at many law firms, government agencies, and corporate legal departments.
  • Bachelor's in Paralegal Studies: This program typically takes full-time students about four years to complete. Coursework delves deeper into legal theories and problem-solving skills. With a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies, you can pursue careers such as law enforcement officer, legal assistant, court reporter, and paralegal.
  • Associate in Legal Studies: This degree also takes about two years of study. Unlike a paralegal studies degree, this program provides a broader overview of the legal field. With an associate degree in legal studies, you can work in various legal support roles.
  • Bachelor's in Legal Studies: This degree typically requires about four years of full-time study. Classes offer a comprehensive overview of the legal system. Similar to a bachelor's in paralegal studies, graduates can pursue jobs like legal assistant, court reporter, and paralegal.

Some schools also offer a master's in legal studies for students who want to take their education to the next level. Although not a requirement to become a paralegal, this graduate-level program covers topics like contract negotiations, compliance, and mediation in greater detail. With this graduate degree, you can pursue advanced roles in areas like compliance management, contracts management, human resources management, and more.

Paralegal Certifications

In addition to your degree, you may choose to earn a professional certification. While not always required, earning a paralegal certification can set you apart in the job market and enhance your career prospects. Here are four paralegal certifications to consider:

  • Paralegal CORE Competency: Offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), this exam certifies the competence of early-career or entry-level paralegals.
  • Paralegal Advanced Competency: Also offered by NFPA, this certification is for experienced paralegals who want to demonstrate their advanced competency. To sit for this exam, professionals must have 2-7 years of paralegal experience.
  • Certified Paralegal: Offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants, this certification validates a paralegal's knowledge of legal concepts. The American Bar Association recognizes this credential as a mark of excellence.
  • Professional Paralegal: This certification is offered by the National Association for Legal Professionals and shows a paralegal's commitment to professional development. To earn this credential, candidates must pass a four-part exam.

Frequently Asked Questions About Being a Paralegal

Do paralegals do a lot of writing?

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Paralegals are required to do a significant amount of writing, from drafting legal documents and court forms to composing correspondence and internal memos. They must possess strong writing skills to ensure accuracy and clarity in their work.

Are paralegals wealthy?

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Paralegals earn a median salary of almost $60,000 a year — significantly higher than the median annual wage for all workers in the U.S., which is about $46,000. However, they are not usually classified as wealthy, with their earnings not reaching the high thresholds typically associated with wealth.

Who are the largest employers for paralegals?

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According to BLS, legal services are the primary employers of paralegals, accounting for 74% of jobs in the field. Other notable employers include federal, local, and state governments, as well as the finance and insurance sectors.

Are paralegals in demand in the U.S.?

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Paralegals are in demand in the U.S. The BLS projects jobs for this position to grow by 4% from 2022-2032. Opportunities for career advancement and salary increases are particularly notable for those specializing in fields like corporate law or intellectual property. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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