Learn how to become a paralegal in California in this article if you have the dream of becoming a paralegal. You can also check our previous post about how to become a lawyer in the USA.
Who is a paralegal?
“A paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.” Source: American Bar Association
The California Business and Professions Code sections 6450. (a) defined a paralegal thus:
“Paralegal” means a person who holds himself or herself out to be a paralegal, who is qualified by education, training, or work experience, and who either contracts with or is employed by an attorney, law firm, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity, and who performs substantial legal work under the direction and supervision of an active member of the State Bar of California, as defined in Section 6060, or an attorney practicing law in the federal courts of this state, that has been specifically delegated by the attorney to him or her.“
A paralegal does not include a nonlawyer who provides legal services directly to members of the public.
What does a paralegal do?
Paralegals provide support for lawyers. According to the State Bar of California, “a Paralegal (PL) assists with case planning, development, and management, legal research, interviews clients, gathers facts and retrieves information, drafts and analyzes legal documents and collects, complies and utilizes technical information, to make recommendations to an attorney.” In other words, a paralegal drafts legal documents, formal discovery requests, notices, interrogatories, motions, and summaries of depositions.
How to become a Paralegal in California
1. Earn a degree in paralegal program
According to California Business and Professions code, section 6450, a paralegal shall possess at least one of the following:
- A certificate of completion of a paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association.
- A certificate of completion of a paralegal program at, or a degree from, a postsecondary institution that requires the successful completion of a minimum of 24 semester, or equivalent, units in law-related courses and that has been accredited by a national or regional accrediting organization or approved by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education.
- A baccalaureate degree or an advanced degree in any subject, a minimum of one year of law-related experience under the supervision of an attorney who has been an active member of the State Bar of California for at least the preceding three years or who has practiced in the federal courts of this state for at least the preceding three years, and a written declaration from this attorney stating that the person is qualified to perform paralegal tasks.
- A high school diploma or general equivalency diploma, a minimum of three years of law-related experience under the supervision of an attorney who has been an active member of the State Bar of California for at least the preceding three years or who has practiced in the federal courts of this state for at least the preceding three years, and a written declaration from this attorney stating that the person is qualified to perform paralegal tasks. This experience and training shall be completed no later than December 31, 2003.
So, the first way to become a paralegal in California is to obtain a degree in paralegal program.
2. Get a paralegal training in a law firm
After completing your degree program, you need an experience in a law firm under the supervision of an attorney. Apply in any law office of your choice to work as a paralegal in order to acquire the necessary skills and experience you need as a paralegal.
3. You can become a certified paralegal if you want
This is optional when it comes to becoming a paraleal in California. Paralegals who pass NALA’s Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) and California Advanced Specialty (CAS) examinations are qualified to be California Advanced Specialists. One of the benefits of this is that it increases your chances of employment.
4. Start working as a Paralegal in Californian
After completing the above requirements, you are entitled to practice as a paralegal in California. All you need is to search for paralegal jobs. You can work with a lawyer in a law firm, government (Federal, State, and Local) and corporate law.
How much do paralegals earn in California?
According to Salary.com, “the average Paralegal salary in California is $67,373 as of July 26, 2022, but the range typically falls between $59,580 and $76,067. Salary ranges can vary widely depending on the city. Other important factors that affects the salary of a paralegal in California includes, education, certifications, additional skills, the number of years you have spent in your profession.”
Completing an ABA approved paralegal program in California will take between 18 to 24 months.
To have a successful career in paralegal, you need communication skills, research, investigation, writing, and technology skills and the ability to listen or pay attention to details.