If you’re interested in law but don’t have the time, money or inclination to get an advanced degree, the paralegal profession may be a good fit. Paralegals, or legal assistants, are not allowed to argue in court or give legal advice to clients, but they do much of the heavy lifting that helps bring a case to trial.

 

Working closely with lawyers, they perform essential tasks that run the gamut from researching past cases for precedents, making sure all relevant information is included in briefs, and helping draft contracts and estates. And their responsibilities are only increasing, in part because law firms are attempting to cut costs by handing over more responsibility to assistants.

 

There are a few different ways to become a paralegal. For those who don’t have college degrees, many community colleges and other schools offer associate or bachelor programs specifically geared toward the profession. Certificate programs, less strenuous than a full degree, are also a popular route; these may last anywhere from a few months to two years, and are particularly attractive to those who already have a college education. As in most fields at the moment, those with the most training — that is, a degree, and not only a certificate — tend to have a built-in advantage.

 

Once you’re done with your training, your school may be able to help you land an internship. The most popular destination is a private law firm, where 71 percent of paralegals work. Government agencies and corporate legal departments make up most of the rest of the paralegal population.