California employs more paralegals than any other state, and the demand for qualified paralegals in California continues to grow.1 Job demand isn't the only reason many decide to become a paralegal. Those who are attracted to the legal professions often hope to find a challenging and rewarding career in which they can make a difference. Being an attorney may be their ultimate goal, but becoming a paralegal first can prove to be a very wise decision. Compared to law school, paralegal programs take less time, are far less expensive, and tend to focus more on pratical matters such as conducting legal research, drafting legal documents, and investigating the facts of a case. So, what are the requirements to work as a paralegal in California?
First, what is a paralegal?
According to the California Business and Professions Code, Section 6450. (a) "Paralegal" means a person who holds himself or herself out to be a paralegal, who is qualified by education, training, or work experience, 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.
What are the job duties of a paralegal?
Tasks performed by a paralegal include, but are not limited to, case planning, development, and management; legal research; interviewing clients; fact gathering and retrieving information; drafting and analyzing legal documents; collecting, compiling, and utilizing technical information to make an independent decision and recommendation to the supervising attorney; and representing clients before a state or federal administrative agency if that representation is permitted by statute, court rule, or administrative rule or regulation.2
What are the educational requirements of a California paralegal?
The California Business and Professions Code, Section6450 (c) states: A paralegal shall possess at least one of the following:
(1) A certificate of completion of a paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association.
(2) 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.
(3) 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.
(4) 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.
As you can see, California has established several combinations of education and experience that can qualify a person to work as paralegal. Education is key, as each requirement contains an educational component. For most, attending an accredited paralegal program that contains at least 24 semester hours of law-related courses insures them of being able to work as a paralegal in California and most other states.
All programs offered at Center for Advanced Legal Studies comply with the paralegal requirements of the State of California. What's more, unlike ABA approved programs, the paralegal certificate and paralegal degree programs at CALS are available 100% online for California residents. This is important for non-traditional students looking to attend class at night or on weekends.
1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Paralegals and Legal Assistants, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm (visited February 02, 2016).
2 California Business and Professions Code, Sections 6450-6456. On the Internet at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=bpc&group=06001-07000&file=6450-6456 (visited February 02, 2016).