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Can I Pursue a Paralegal Career With a Felony?

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It's no wonder so many people consider training to become a paralegal. A paralegal salary is substantial, and the work can be fascinating and engaging. Can you be a paralegal with a felony on your record? The good news is that no laws prevent someone with a felony record from becoming a paralegal. However, having a criminal conviction can be an obstacle in getting accepted to a training program. It can also be difficult to find a law firm that will hire you.

Can Anyone Be a Paralegal?

The education background required to become a paralegal varies among the states. Many states offer different options. Usually, these include attending a paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association or earning a college degree in paralegal studies or criminal justice. A two-year or three-year associate degree from a community college is the most common way to train for a career as a paralegal.

You can sign up for college paralegal programs regardless of prior criminal convictions. No states impose paralegal background requirements that preclude those convicted of felony offenses from training for this career.

However, some ABA-approved paralegal programs may ask about your criminal background. The best advice in this situation is to be completely honest. If you are rejected, you can try another program or attend a community college paralegal program.

Paralegal With a Criminal Record

The biggest problem for a paralegal with a criminal record is finding work in an attorney's office. In many states, felons are not permitted to be attorneys, and those lawyers may think twice about employing someone with a felony record as a close assistant. The primary job of a paralegal is to support attorneys in serving their clients and can include investigations, document preparation and contacting clients, opposing attorneys or trial witnesses.

Some states permit you to become a paralegal with less schooling by working with a supervising attorney. For example, in California, you can become a paralegal with a high school diploma if you work for and are supervised by a California attorney for three years.

A felon may have a harder time finding an attorney with whom to work. The same issue can come up when you try to find an internship in a paralegal program. Getting hired by an attorney after you are done with your training can also be difficult. You'll have to be determined and work hard to find the right slot.

Paralegal Salary and Job Outlook

If you are considering training as a paralegal despite the possible obstacles, there are lots of good reasons to do so. First, there's the excellent salary. The mean salary for paralegals in 2018 was $50,940 a year, or $24.49 an hour. "Mean" indicates that half of the paralegals make more than this amount, and the other half makes less.

The field is growing as well. In 2016, there were 285,600 paralegal positions in the country. By 2026, this number is expected to grow by 41,800 jobs, an increase of about 15 percent.

Paralegal Work Options

Finally, the type of work you can do as a paralegal is very diverse, and you can find a niche that appeals to you. Paralegals in small offices tend to do anything that needs to be done, from making copies of documents to preparing client bills.

Paralegals in bigger firms are often more specialized. For example:

  • If trial law interests you, you could find work in the litigation section of the firm where you are in charge of preparing discovery or getting exhibits ready for court.

  • If you prefer corporate law, you could get a job as a corporate paralegal and assist the attorneys in preparing documents like employee contracts, shareholder agreements and annual financial reports. 

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About the Author

Teo Spengler has worked as a trial lawyer, a teacher and a writer at various times in her life, which is one of the reasons she likes to write about career paths. Spengler has published thousands of articles in the past decade including articles providing tips for starting a job or changing careers. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, and Working Mother websites. She holds a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley, an M.A. in English and an M.F.A. in fiction.

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