California paralegals, otherwise known as California legal assistants, are individuals who are “qualified through education, training or work experience to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer” (National Federation of Paralegal Associations).
In short, California paralegals are non-lawyers but who nevertheless perform much of the same tasks as lawyers do. They usually work under the supervision of a lawyer but may also offer their services independently. Currently, seven out of ten California paralegals work in a law office. Others are employed by a lawyer, government agency or corporations.
How to Become a California Paralegal
Most California paralegals have a diverse background as the nature of the job calls for a wide range of knowledge and skills. Education and training requirements are also likewise diverse, but these are generally related to the responsibilities of the position.
There are, however, California paralegals who focus on one specialized field of paralegal work. For instance, California paralegals with medical training may choose to work in personal injury or medical malpractice. On the other hand, a California paralegal in environmental law may have had some experience as a naturalist.
Formal training and higher education are not normally required for employment. However, majority of employers now are looking for applicants who do have some educational background in paralegal studies.
A four-year degree in paralegal studies or law office management is considered highly desirable, even as many employers hire California paralegals who have a two-year certificate program. Two-year degrees with an emphasis in paralegal studies are often set as the minimum criterion for hiring individuals.
Where California Paralegals Work
As already mentioned, most California paralegals work in legal offices or law firms, but these are not the only areas that a prospective paralegal may explore. Banks, corporations, insurance agencies, legal clinics, courts, government agencies, accounting and engineering firms, title companies, construction companies, and legal aid offices may also require the service of a paralegal.
California paralegals who work in the private sector are often assigned in specialized areas of law, such as litigation, probate, real estate, corporate, taxation, domestic relations, or employee benefits. Those who work in the public sector are often employed by non-profit public law firms or state or local governmental agencies. Their specialized areas of assignment may include welfare, family law, health care, landlord/tenant, disability benefits, unemployment, compensation, or social security.
When considering a career as a California paralegal, the best way to find a job is through networking. Word-of-mouth is an easy and convenient method to get the news on any paralegal job vacancies. Many paralegal associations and job banks also serve as excellent resources for paralegal jobs.