How to Become a Paralegal: 4 Types of Education

By Jess Penner

A paralegal isa trained law professionalwho is employed or retained by a lawyer, law firm, corporation, or some other entity for which the paralegal performs delegated law work. In some cases however, depending on the jurisdiction or area, that definition can mean something drastically different. In Ontario, Canada paralegals, through licensure, are allowed to provide their services independently of lawyers, law firms, or other entities. Ontario also has clearly defined guidelines under which paralegals are allowed to practice independently. The licensure and scope of practice is defined and guided by The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC).

Becoming a paralegal can be an excellent career choice for those who are passionate about law but do not wish to attend law schoolor become lawyers. Although, working as a paralegal can also be an excellent stepping stone towards the goal of becoming a lawyer by becoming familiar with law practice. According to Job Bank Canada, the 10-year national projectedoutlook for paralegalsis expected to remain fair, which means that there will be a steady demand for paralegals for the foreseeable future. The largest concentration of working paralegals in Ontario is found in Ottawa and Toronto.Paralegals are licensed to represent individuals and businesses in the small claims court, the Court of Justice, and administrative tribunals such as the Financial Services Commission, the Landlord and Tenant Board, and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.


While paralegal requirements can vary based on the jurisdiction, generally, to become a paralegal a person will need to complete an approved course of study, submit a statement of good character, pay a registration fee, and write and pass the Paralegal Licensure Exam.To maintain their license, paralegals are also required to complete a certain amount of Continued Professional Development (CPD) each year. Renewal fees are typically required as well.

In terms of education, those who want to become paralegals have four options available to them: paralegal certificates, graduate certificates, paralegal diplomas, and paralegal degrees. Each path has its own advantages and disadvantages depending on the individual’s needs and goals.

1. Paralegal Certificate

Paralegal certificates are designed for working people, those wishing to make a career change, or someone who does not wish to obtain a diploma or a degree, both of which typically take longer to obtain. Paralegal certificates can be obtain in one year and they focus exclusively on paralegal education; no general education is covered.

2. Graduate Certificate

A graduate certificate requires that the student hold a previously obtained undergraduate degree. Graduate certificates also focus on just the paralegal course work and can be obtained in one year.

3. Paralegal Diploma

Paralegal diplomas require that the applicant has some previously completed college/university coursework or has relevant work experience, typically from the legal field. Diplomas take about two years to complete and its students usually take the same exact courses as those who are working on obtaining their paralegal degrees. General coursework is not part of the diploma route.

4. Paralegal Degree

A paralegal degree typically takes four years to complete and it includes paralegal specific as well as general coursework.

Each option provides the potential paralegal with a path to a career in law. There is an option for a wide variety of situations and educational experiences and each of them allows the person to become a licensed paralegal and begin their new career in law. After obtaining their license, a person can choose to join a paralegal association. Each province has its own associations. In Ontario, paralegals can choose to join the Ontario Paralegal Association and/or the Paralegal Society of Canada.