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Continuing Education for Paralegals

November 25, 2008

If you've already completed an accredited paralegal education program and obtained an Associate's, Bachelor's, or Master's degree, you're well on your way to landing a high-caliber, potentially lucrative position as a legal assistant. While formal education is not officially required to work as a paralegal, it will help to give you an advantage over other candidates when seeking a position at an esteemed firm. But the learning doesn't end with the procurement of your diploma. To keep your professional momentum going and to maintain your status as a qualified, competent paralegal, you'll need to engage in continuing education throughout your career. Continuing Legal Education (CLE) is important not just for paralegals, but for attorneys, researchers, and anyone employed in the field of law.

In the legal profession, laws and regulations are constantly changing. With new precedents being set and new interpretations being formed every day, continuing education is essential to staying apprised of industry developments. By being proactive in seeking out new information, you'll become more of an asset to your employer and will be better equipped to perform your job duties effectively.

Depending on your geographical location and the regulations set forth by your employer, earning CLE credits may be a mandatory condition of your employment. If you've obtained an official paralegal certification through an ABA-approved agency (such as a Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal from the National Association of Legal Assistants), you'll be required to pursue a certain number of hours of CLE credits within a specified time range to maintain your designated CLA/CP status. Even if it's not required, however, it will still be to your professional benefit to supplement your core schooling and on-the-job training with ongoing education.

Most paralegals earn their CLE credits by enrolling in legal courses at their local college or vocational school, usually the same one where they obtained their degree. Many institutions offer evening or weekend classes to accommodate those who have full-time jobs and families. For the utmost convenience, there are also online programs that allow you to complete the coursework from the comfort of your own home and at your own pace. Unlike traditional schooling, it's not as critical that you obtain CLE credits from an accredited institution, especially since you've most likely already obtained employment.

Besides keeping you up-to-date on the most recent law changes and industry developments, continuing education helps to reinforce skills you may not use on a regular basis, such as certain software programs or legal research tools. Brushing up on these competencies will help you to remain a well-rounded employee, giving you the confidence you need to utilize those skills should the need arise.

Alternate Forms of Continuing Education

Outside the realm of mandated CLE credits, there are other ways in which you can hone your skills through self-education. Below are some practical tips for refining your paralegal competencies while on the job:

  • Approach each project as a learning opportunity. Even the most mundane or the most difficult assignments can provide a chance to learn something new or overcome an obstacle. If a task seems too easy or mindless, look for ways to incorporate new challenges. If you're overwhelmed by a daunting duty, regard it as a chance to step outside of your comfort zone and come away a more versatile employee.
  • Seek out seminars. Even if you've already earned your required CLE credits for the year, take advantage of conferences or seminars - either live or online - to boost your skills and make you a more valuable employee. Your employer will be impressed by your initiative and your willingness for voluntary learning.
  • Go above and beyond. The paralegal profession can sometimes be demanding, requiring legal assistants to work extra hours and take on tasks that may not be in their official job description. By being flexible and adaptable, you'll automatically become more valuable to your employer and will expand your opportunities for growth.
  • Offer to lend a hand. If your workload allows, ask your colleagues if you can take any tasks off their plates. This will allow you to learn new things while making you an indispensable member of the team.
  • Be positive. Grumbling about a frustrating project will only make it worse. Approach each day with an open, optimistic attitude, and you'll be much more likely to receive the “meatier” tasks that provide the valuable learning opportunities you want. If it helps, find a positive mantra and recite it at the beginning of each workday.
  • Get things done. If your employer was asked to cite the most important qualification of a paralegal, it would most likely be “efficiency.” Time is of the essence in the legal field. Attorneys need assistants who can work quickly yet reliably, providing them with the facts, files, and tools they need, when they need them. If you work efficiently, you'll be more likely to receive the more complex tasks that will provide rich opportunities for professional development.
  • Connect with your elders. Those who have worked in the office - or the industry - for many years will possess an abundance of knowledge that can only be obtained through seasoned experience. Seize any opportunities to ask senior staff members for their input and advice. You'll glean some valuable nuggets of information while making them feel respected and valued.
  • Emulate role models. If there is someone at your place of employment who has earned considerable respect from the managing attorneys, watch him or her and find out what they're doing right. Take steps to incorporate those same qualities in your own work.
  • Don't be afraid of mistakes. Sometimes an error can be the best source of learning. Instead of fretting over blunders, use them as opportunities for growth and self-education.
    Whether it's the pursuit of continuing education in the form of CLE credits from a formal training program or the seizing of everyday opportunities for self-development, ongoing learning should be an integral part of every paralegal's job.

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