The paralegal field is one of the fastest-growing professions today due to economic growth, advanced technology, and increasing caseloads. The average salary for the profession has grown, as well. It now hovers at almost $50,000 annually and is another big draw.
Given these, the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 15 percent increase in paralegal employment between 2016 and 2026 — which is significantly faster than the average of all other jobs.
Armed with an online paralegal degree or certificate, you can take advantage of the growing market to start a highly lucrative career, too.
Adding Value through Specialization
Specialization is an essential part of the legal industry. The American Bar Association notes that a narrower niche makes it easier for lawyers to establish themselves as an authority in that field.
The same holds true for other legal professionals, including paralegals.
Specializing in one field further increases your total earning potential. It also offers an advantage in the job market. You’ll have the edge over other candidates, particularly when applying at law firms with the same specialization.
Paralegals can obtain a specialization through supplementary education, on-the-job training, or both. Having a certification or proof of your expertise is as important as your experience on the job.
You can work as a general practitioner first while building up your network and knowledge and then choose an area to specialize in later. Alternatively, you can focus on just one field right from the start.
Finding a Profitable Niche
A good starting point when deciding on a paralegal specialization is to look at your interests and skills. Research which areas of the law melds with your interests. Regardless of your personal passions, there are areas of the law that will intersect with it. Some examples are as follows:
- Criminal defense is recommended for individuals with exceptional research skills. They must be ready for the demanding legal legwork involved in putting a case together, seeing it through trial, and preparing for an appeal.
- Estate planning involves helping clients prepare their wills, trusts, and other legal documents to ensure their legacy and the smooth distribution of assets when they die.
- Intellectual property (IP) is a growing legal practice that encompasses patent law, copyright law, and more. IP paralegals help clients file patents and protect the ownership of their ideas and creations, such as books, music, and designs.
Important Points to Consider
Take note that specialization has potential downsides. Focusing on a single niche can make you more appealing for law firms that practice in the same field. Depending on your location, though, there may be insufficient opportunities for you to explore your niche.
Some lawyers and practices may prefer “well-rounded” paralegals with experience in more than one area of law, moreover. Starting your career as a paralegal at general practice law firms and handling cases from different practice areas before specializing in one field may help. It can open more options for you in the future.
Be mindful of industry trends when choosing your specialization. For instance, specialization in bankruptcy may be ideal in the recession years, but the field has seen a significant decline as the economy improved.
Consider the paralegal responsibilities, tasks you enjoy most, and the current trends when choosing a niche, not just your interests. A well-chosen specialization will help you make the most of your legal career.