The Guide to Becoming a Paralegal in Massachusetts

Heather Furno, Student from Paralegal Studies

The demand for the skilled paralegal in Massachusetts is rising, with law firms, government agencies, and corporations seeking talented legal assistants to support attorneys. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment of paralegals is projected to grow 14 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations. About 45,800 openings for paralegals and legal assistants are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire” (2023).

In addition to job demand and stability, there are many other benefits to pursuing a career as a paralegal. Compensation is competitive for skilled professionals, and experience and education will present many career advancement opportunities. Additionally, many paralegals find their work meaningful, as they play a vital role in the legal system. They also gain exposure to various areas of law, which keeps day-to-day work interesting.

Whether you’re a recent high school graduate or a seasoned professional looking to switch careers, this guide will equip you with the knowledge and resources to embark on a successful paralegal journey in the Bay State.

What is a Paralegal?

Paralegals play a crucial role in the legal system by conducting research, drafting legal documents, organizing case files and assisting attorneys as they prepare for trials and hearings. Although paralegals do not provide legal advice or represent clients in court, they help lawyers manage their caseloads and deliver quality representation.

Paralegals often find work at law firms, but they also find careers within corporate legal departments, government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Paralegals can specialize in areas such as intellectual property, immigration, family or environmental law. Specialization can open doors to more positions and higher salaries.

Responsibilities of a Paralegal

To succeed as a paralegal, it helps to have strong written and oral communication skills since you must regularly interact with attorneys, clients and other legal professionals. Research and analysis are also important skills since you’ll be required to identify relevant case precedents, statutes and regulations. Additional qualities needed to succeed as a paralegal include technological proficiency in legal software such as Lexis Advance, organizational and time management skills and strong attention to detail.

Paralegals have diverse responsibilities that vary depending on the type of law firm or organization they work for. Some everyday tasks performed by paralegals include:

  • Legal research. Paralegals research legal issues, statutes, regulations and case precedents. They gather and analyze relevant information to assist attorneys in building arguments and supporting clients’ cases.
  • Drafting legal documents. Paralegals prepare contracts, pleadings, motions and affidavits. They ensure that all necessary documents are accurately and timely filed with the courts and administrative bodies.
  • Organizing case files. Paralegals maintain case files, which include all relevant documents, evidence and correspondence. They create and update case management systems to ensure easy access to information and efficient case progression.
  • Assisting in trial preparation. Paralegals provide invaluable support to attorneys during trial preparation. They help with witness interviews, document organization, exhibit preparation, and courtroom logistics. Paralegals may also attend trials to assist attorneys during proceedings.
  • Client communication. Paralegals often act as a liaison between clients and attorneys. They may communicate with clients to gather information, provide case updates and answer basic legal questions under attorney supervision.
  • Administrative tasks. Paralegals handle administrative tasks such as scheduling appointments, managing calendars and billing clients. They ensure all administrative processes run smoothly, allowing attorneys to focus on their legal work.

Paralegal Education and Certification Requirements

While there are no strict educational requirements to become a paralegal in Massachusetts, many employers prefer candidates with formal education. A combination of education and practical experience will enhance your job prospects and equip you with the necessary skills to excel in this field.

Education

Although it isn’t required, many aspiring paralegals pursue certificate programs and/or bachelor’s degrees. Bachelor’s degree holders can expect higher pay and better job prospects.

UMass Lowell offers an online Paralegal Studies certificate program with credit-bearing courses that can count toward a bachelor’s degree. Many students who complete the paralegal certificate choose to move on to the Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, Paralegal Option or the Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts, Legal Studies concentration to position themselves for improved job opportunities. These programs provide a comprehensive understanding of the legal system, research methods and skills paralegals require.

However, some individuals may complete a bachelor’s degree in another discipline and then pursue the paralegal certificate to gain specialized legal knowledge and pivot into a paralegal career.

Certification

Not to be confused with the paralegal certificate, which is an academic credential, paralegal certification involves taking an exam through a certifying institution.

While not mandatory, obtaining a certification can demonstrate your commitment to the profession and increase your credibility as a paralegal. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) require passing an exam that tests legal knowledge.

Steps to Become a Paralegal in Massachusetts

Step 1: Learn More About the Field

Continue to familiarize yourself with the paralegal career. Read books, online resources and industry publications to gain insights into the work you will do. Connect with practicing professionals or join associations to gain valuable advice.

Step 2: Obtain a Paralegal Education

Decide on the level of education you wish to pursue: a bachelor’s degree or a certificate program. Research credible paralegal programs, such as those affiliated with the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE), and evaluate their curriculum, faculty, reputation and overall value.

Step 3: Consider Certification

While certification is not mandatory, it can enhance your credentials and increase your job prospects. Research the certification options available, such as exams offered by NALA or the NFPA.

Step 4: Gain Practical Experience

Seek experiential learning opportunities through internships or part-time positions. UMass Lowell’s paralegal students have completed internships at The Office of the General Counsel, Massachusetts Community College System, Massachusetts Court Service Centers, various in-house corporate legal departments and many different law offices. Practical experience will not only enhance your resume but also provide valuable insights into the daily responsibilities of a paralegal.

Step 5: Network

Attend industry events, join professional associations, and connect with paralegals and legal professionals in your area. Networking can lead to job opportunities, mentorship, and valuable insights into the profession. UMass Lowell students and alums can also use UML Connect to network with other graduates and explore job opportunities.

Take the First Step Toward Your Career as a Paralegal in Massachusetts

Check out UMass Lowell’s online Paralegal Certificate, online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice, Paralegal Option, or the Liberal Arts Degree, Legal Studies Concentration.