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24 Sep 2018

How Long Does It Take To Become A Paralegal?

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    Paralegals are increasingly in demand in Ontario as many law firms look to replace lawyers on their staff to decrease costs and improve flexibility.

    A career as a paralegal can be a deeply rewarding one especially in Ontario, as paralegals are legally entitled to represent their own client independent of a lawyer. The median wage for a paralegal in the province is $58,712, and the highest earning paralegals can bill $50 to $75 per hour of their time.

    The job sector is also projected to grow at 18% between 2010 to 2020, keeping pace with other professions and improving chances of securing employment immediately after completing a paralegal course.

    But how long does it take to become a paralegal from start to finish?

    Paralegal education

    Paralegal law books stacked up in a library

    Ontario is the only province in Canada that has regulated the paralegal profession. This means that they have enforced particular education requirements on the profession to ensure a certain level of knowledge.
    Whilst this typically results in a longer time spent becoming a paralegal, it also allows paralegals in Ontario to represent their own clients in Small Claims Court and various tribunals.

    Any level of paralegal education will need to be carried out at an educational institution accredited by the Law Society of Ontario (LSO).

    How long exactly it will take will depend on the level of education chosen.

    Paralegal certificate

    A paralegal certificate is the fastest option that meets the government’s minimum education standards for becoming a paralegal.

    Designed for people who are already working, considering a mid-life career change or otherwise unable to undertake a diploma or degree. They are often offered online, on the weekend or in the evenings to accommodate busy schedules.

    Paralegal certificates typically take one year to complete but this can vary depending on the study load that you take on. Graduate certificates are also available but will require prior completion of a bachelor’s degree.

    Whilst a paralegal certificate is the only viable option for many people already in the workforce, employers are increasingly looking for candidates with tertiary education and so a certificate will not be worth as much as a degree.

    Paralegal diploma

    For those with a little more time on their hands, a paralegal diploma can offer an effective means to becoming a paralegal.

    Diplomas are generally undertaken by individuals with some post secondary education or with some relevant work experience and are looking to improve their career prospects.

    Usually taking around two years to complete but possible in one with an accelerated course, a diploma will include the core paralegal coursework as well as some general education courses. Whilst this will lengthen the amount of time it takes to receive the award, a diploma is looked on more favourably by potential employers than a certificate.

    Importantly, only a diploma will involve a co-op placement at the conclusion of coursework. This is crucial as it provides real world paralegal work experience, which is an LSO requirement to become a licensed paralegal.

    Cestar College offers one of the most trusted and comprehensive paralegal diplomas in Ontario. Combining a beneficial selection of general education courses with the best paralegal classes in the province, Cestar College’s paralegal diploma concludes with a 120 hour practical placement for all students.

    This placement provides real world paralegal work experience in a range of different settings including law firms, government offices, financial institutions and more. These placements can often lead to continued employment after graduation and a chance to network with your future colleagues.

    Paralegal degree

    The most time intensive paralegal education you can receive in Ontario is a paralegal degree from a LSO accredited educational institute.

    A paralegal degree will typically take around four years to complete, which is similar to most other bachelor’s degrees. This will involve a mixture of general education classes and the required paralegal coursework, which is why it takes longer than a certificate or diploma.

    Whilst a degree is a great option for those with the time to dedicate four years, it can be impractical to those already working or with busy home lives.

    Paralegal law spelled out in scrabble letters

    Post paralegal education

    Once you have completed a paralegal course, you have a few things to consider before becoming a paralegal.

    Undertake a Paralegal Masters

    This option is available to those who have successfully graduated from a paralegal bachelor’s course and want to further their education.

    Paralegal Masters courses generally take an additional two years to complete, and can involve coursework and a thesis. Paralegal Masters are designed for those wishing to become an expert in their field, and have the highest level of education attainable by a paralegal.

    Sit the Licensing Exam

    Following the successful completion of a paralegal course, you must sit and pass a paralegal Licensing Exam.

    This is a 7 hour written examination that aims to cover all of the core competencies expected of a paralegal in Ontario. There are three exams held throughout the year, and you can attend whichever one you prefer.

    This is the penultimate step in becoming a fully licensed practicing paralegal in Ontario and the culmination of your hard work.

    Register as a paralegal

    Once you have received a passing grade for the Licensing Exam, you must now register with the LSO as a practicing paralegal in Ontario.

    This is a simple case of filling out the required forms, paying the registration fees, and receiving your registration number and certificate.

    You may also wish to join a paralegal law society, which can provide professional support as well as an opportunity to network and further your career.

    The time it takes to become a paralegal can vary widely depending on the level of education you wish to undertake, whether you pass the Licensing Exam on the first try, or whether you defer sitting the exam.

    Assuming you pass the exam on your first attempt, becoming a paralegal can take anywhere from one year to six years, with the increased time depending on whether you undertake a certificate, diploma, degree or masters.

    Are you looking for a paralegal diploma but don’t know where to start? Contact Cestar College today to speak to one of our dedicated team members who will answer any questions you might have.

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