After four years of college to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and a year of accelerated paralegal studies (followed by sitting for my paralegal certification), most people assumed I was finished with school. They were wrong. I chose a career that's constantly evolving as new laws are written, old laws are stricken from the books, and judges issue new opinions daily that become the basis for case law.
To remain at the top of my field, I'll always be working to expand my knowledge of the law and stay on top of changes as they occur. The law today may not necessarily be the same standard we use to decide a case next week. In addition to the changes in statutes and case law, paralegals also need to stay on top of changes in other areas that affect how we perform our job. Changes in technology, improvements in document management, changing court rules, expanding and changing concepts in ethics, and better trial techniques are just a few examples of areas where a paralegal must continue to learn and grow to excel in their career.
Continuing Education Courses
If you believe that education stops when you obtain a college degree or a job, you’ll likely remain in an entry-level position with few opportunities, if any, to grow and excel. In today’s competitive job market, most professional careers require some level of continuing education. This is especially true for careers in fields that change and expand such as in the legal field.
Doctors, attorneys, accountants, and other professionals are required to participate in continuing education courses each year in order to obtain their certification, specialization and/or license. While paralegals are not regulated in this manner, we can benefit from these courses as we seek to improve our skills and stay at the top of our field.
As a paralegal, you should never stop learning. Decisions in cases lead to new case law and new legal theories. New laws affect clients and, as part of your job, you need to keep up with them to assist your attorney in presenting the best possible case for the client. Continuing education courses are an excellent way for you to stay on top of changes in the law as well as advances in the legal field.
Benefits of Continuing Education Courses for Paralegals
As a paralegal, you receive many benefits from attending continuing education courses.
- Increase your value to the firm. Increasing your knowledge, building additional skills, and strengthening your current skills makes you more valuable to your attorney and the law firm. It makes you marketable and, in turn, can increase your chances of getting raises and promotions.
- More confidence. As you learn more about the law and better ways to perform your job, you’ll gain confidence. That confidence helps you handle more tasks. Confidence also helps you handle stress better so that you remain calm in any situation. Your employer will notice!
- Learn useful tools to make you more efficient. Continuing education courses are not just about changes in the law. You can learn new techniques and skills that will make you more productive and efficient.
- Expand your knowledge base. If you want to branch out into a new area of law, continuing education courses are a great way to become familiar with your alternatives. You can find courses that offer basic information on a legal topic as well as in-depth courses. In addition to learning about a new field, these courses are an ideal way to network and learn about new opportunities in your area.
- Remain current on changes in the law. New laws are being passed every day that change existing laws. Even though you’re not the attorney, it’s part of your job to know the laws that affect your cases. Your attorney relies on your knowledge so stay up-to-date – be a great asset and bring that edge that can make a real difference.
- Build communication skills. Paralegals act as the “go-between” for attorneys, clients, courts, experts, witnesses, and countless other parties involved in a case. As I laid out in this post, building effective communication skills is vital if you want to perform well, excel, and grow your career.
- Career growth and competitive edge. Paralegals who regularly attend continuing education courses are more marketable and have more opportunities for career growth. Attorneys are also required to attend continuing education courses and should understand the need for and the value of these courses. This is one of the best ways to be an asset in your law firm, not to mention that at an individual professional level, it opens the door for promotions, better jobs, and career growth. Never underestimate the value of listing the number of hours of continuing education you complete each year on your resume.
Opportunities for Continuing Education
Many companies and organizations offer continuing education courses. You can find courses offered online through podcasts or live teleconferences as well as in-person. While online courses are convenient, attending a course in-person offers a great opportunity to network and interact with others in your field.
Paralegal Associations – Several paralegal associations offer continuing education courses on a variety of topics designed specifically for paralegals. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations has a list of the courses offered by its member associations throughout the United States. Both NALA and AAoP offer courses to their members and non-members.
Paralegal Schools – You can often find continuing education courses through the various paralegal schools. They offer continuing education courses as part of their paralegal curricula.
Bar Associations – Local, state, and national Bar Associations have courses available as part of their programs for members. In many cases, the courses are also available to paralegals and other support staff.
CLE Companies – Many companies focus on developing continuing education courses for attorneys, paralegals, and legal support staff. They’re offered online as well as in-person. Lorman Education Services and National Business Institute are two of the largest and most well-known companies in this area.
Continuing education courses are an important factor in improving and growing your career. Keep learning and you’ll soon see benefits that will improve your work as well as increase your job satisfaction.