While there are many things that you'll learn on the job if you become a paralegal, on-the-job training is not enough in this career. To become a paralegal you need to complete formal training, so you can really learn the ins and outs of the law. After all, a paralegal is not an administrative assistant or a clerk; he or she is a legal professional who completes legal documents and reports, helps construct a legal case form the ground up and does intense research into legal matters. As such, a whole range of skills is needed.
There was a time, up until about 1975, when paralegals did learn their jobs solely through work experience. They would've completed high school and perhaps some college, but they probably would have had no practical experience when they showed up at the office on their first day of work. Then, through the 1990's or so, paralegals were required to get a two-year degree from a junior college in paralegal studies, one that would give them a basic introduction to the law and common legal research techniques.
Now, however, in order to be competitive in this profession, a candidate is best served with a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies, or else a bachelor's degree in some other field and a certificate in paralegal studies. That certificate, by the way, usually takes anywhere from three months to a year to earn, depending on how much time you can devote to coursework. You can study for these certificates at traditional colleges and universities or online. And now many paralegals are earning master's degrees in paralegal studies before they ever apply for their first job.
In fact, because paralegals receive so much education today, attorneys are delegating ever more advanced responsibilities to paralegals, which in turn means that in the future master's degrees may become prerequisites for paralegal careers.
An important fact to keep in mind when you're going for paralegal training, however, is that there's no uniform set of standards to become a paralegal. To become a lawyer, by contrast, you have to pass the bar exam; to become a doctor you have to pass the medical boards test.
But, strangely enough, after all these years of the position of paralegal being an official career, there's still no agreed-upon way to measure whether or not a person is ready to become a paralegal. What this means is you'll have to make sure on your own that you have every skill you'll need in today's competitive paralegal job market. That is, you'll need a strong grasp of the law and the proceedings in a courtroom.
You'll need excellent Internet research skills, and you should know your way around a physical law library as well. You'll need to be a good investigator, and have a keen sense of psychology so you can coax the most information out of witnesses and be able to walk a timid client through the steps of a court case.