What is a Paralegal

Paralegals work side by side with attorneys and other legal professionals. Most paralegals work under the direct supervision of an attorney drafting various documents, assisting the attorney with trial preparation and working directly with clients. Some experienced paralegals work as independent contractors working for many different attorneys on specific projects on a contract basis.

Paralegals perform the same functions as an attorney except those prohibited by unauthorized practice of law statues (See California Business and Professions Code Section 6450 (a)). General duties are limited only by statute or a supervising attorney's determination of a specific paralegal's competency.

Some examples of typical paralegal duties are:

  • Factual and legal research.
  • Organization of client matters.
  • Drafting correspondence, pleadings and discovery for attorney review.
  • Legal calendaring.
  • Preparing subject matter databases.
  • Interaction with clients, court personnel, and opposing attorneys.
  • Reviewing, evaluating, and summarizing medical, business, commercial, and other records for attorneys.
  • Reviewing legal documents (contracts, insurance policies, etc.) to spot controversial issues.

Paralegals work everywhere. The traditional law office remains the most popular choice for beginning paralegals but it is not the only choice. Paralegals are defined by the nature of their work and not only their job title. You will find paralegals in corporate legal departments, banks, government agencies, real estate offices, public interest and legal aid organizations, and private industry. Paralegals can also work as non-lawyer advocates representing persons before administrative agencies. The career path for paralegals in the 21st Century is still evolving. Law firms continue to try to find ways to meet client needs and lower the costs involved with running a business. Paralegals are a cost effective way to serve client needs and increase revenue for a law firm.

Paralegals in California are not regulated. Business and Professions Code section 6450, et seq. does not establish a state agency to regulate paralegals. This law dictates the qualifications and functions of paralegals in California, but it does not set forth a regulation plan. For instance, the law does not require licensing or certification by a state agency nor does it require registration of paralegals with a state or local government entity. The law does not establish a governing body, mandate competency testing or moral character investigations. The law does not create an ethics code, however Paralegals are duty bound to follow the ethics codes established by NFPA and NALA, the two professional associations for paralegals.

California Business and Professions Code Sections 450-6456 has been the law governing paralegals for several years now, and its effect can be seen in all aspects of the legal community from hiring criteria for paralegals, to salaries and the economic benefits of billing clients for fee generating legal work. There are many law firms and corporations that have learned the hard way, through denial of a fee award for paralegal work for example, just how important it is to hire a paralegal who is qualified pursuant to the specifics of the Code.

The most important section for a working paralegal is 6450(d), as amended in May 2008 to state that, "every two years, commencing January 1, 2007, any person ... working as a paralegal shall be required to certify completion of four hours of mandatory continuing legal education in ethics and four hours of mandatory continuing legal education in either general law or in an area of specialized law."

The Code goes on to say that certification of these requirements shall be made to the paralegal's supervising attorney and also that the paralegal is responsible for keeping a record of their CEU certifications. In most cases this is easily accomplished by turning in CEU certificates to the HR person at your employment. It is vital for all paralegals to keep track on a CEU log of all their courses, and to also keep copies of the actual certificates. If the continuing education criteria are not met by the paralegal, then the paralegal is in violation of the code.

For a course to count, it must meet the requirements of Business and Profession Code section 6070, be offered by an approved MCLE provider, and that provider's State Bar MCLE number should appear on all certificates. SF State has met the stated requirements and has been designated MCLE provider number 5079 by the State Bar of California.

Skyline College recognizes the importance of making continuing education courses affordable and convenient for working paralegals. Each semester there are several Saturday courses offered for MCLE credit. We have been an approved MCLE provider for several years and offer reasonable fees and a convenient downtown location.

While employer expectations for hiring paralegal vary, most large firms require a BA and a Paralegal Certificate for all positions as career paralegals. Some employers will hire case clerks without a BA who have completed an academic paralegal certificate program. Some “non-career” paralegal jobs are available for college graduates with BA degrees.



Full time students generally enroll in the internship in the second year of the paralegal program.

As an intern, students may be asked to complete a variety of tasks such as maintaining files, answering phones, making copies, filing documents, and more. Interns who prove to be diligent and reliable may be entrusted with additional tasks. The key to success is to view each task as an opportunity to learn something new. Conscientious interns will learn the skills necessary for success in the paralegal field, including organization, communication, filing, writing, research, investigation, legal technology, multi-tasking, teamwork, and attention to detail. Students participating in the internship program can expect to:

  • Gain invaluable hands-on work experience in the legal field
  • Apply classroom learning to real world job tasks
  • Acquire knowledge, skills, and attitudes essential for professional success
  • Develop a professional network in the legal community and clarify career goals
  • Fulfill the experience requirement associated with many job openings

Paralegal Interns can expect to spend about 12 - 15 hours a week at an internship for about fifteen weeks. The exact number of hours and days will depend on the employer. Generally, internships will take place Monday - Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Internships may be renewed by the mutual agreement of the student and the employer.

Skyline College will help students develop professional resumes and cover letter, find internship opportunities, and make connections with employers who have previously provided internships for Skyline College students. Previous internships have been hosted at the organizations listed below. Skyline College does not guarantee placement for student interns.

To join the internship program, register for LEGL 671 - paralegal internships. After completing the internship, students can enroll in Cooperative Education and continue to earn college credit for work experience.

Now that your employee is classified as an internship student at Skyline College, we would like to acquaint you with your responsibilities as an employer and a critical component to the success of the internship program at Skyline College.

Sit down with your employee and assist him or her with the formulation of three (3) measurable job-related learning objectives you feel would make this individual a better and more effective employee within your organization.

Please sign the learning objectives indicating your acknowledgement and approval of your employee's job-related objectives.

Choosing a Paralegal Program

There are many factors to consider before a student decides to invest his or her time, talents, academic dreams, career plans and money in a specific Paralegal Studies Program. In 1994 the American Bar Association (ABA) published a helpful booklet entitled, How to Choose a Paralegal Program. Since then the paralegal profession has experience extensive changes, but many of the basic suggestions remain helpful.

Prospective students should consider the following general factors:

  • The educational objectives of each course should be clearly stated and tailored to employer expectations for paralegals in the legal marketplace.
  • The reputation and educational standing in the community of the paralegal program including how long the paralegal program including how long the paralegal program has been in existence and the qualifications of the program administrator and faculty.
  • Inclusion in the curriculum of internships, placement assistance, academic counseling, and access to informational interviews with graduates.
  • The academic quality of the coursework should be comparable to upper division college-level coursework and measured in semester or quarter units.

All Skyline paralegal classes are open to students with a general interest in the law. Being enrolled in the program is not required as long as the student is eligible to take college coursework and formally registers for the class.

The Paralegal Certificate and Degree Program faculty at Skyline College is compromised of attorneys, senior paralegals, and legal professionals. Skyline College is a fully accredited Community College that offers quality education at a reasonable cost, which is significantly lower than private educational institutions and state universities. The fees for transferable units in the Paralegal Certificate Program are in line with all Community College fees.

Individual resume help and career assistance are available for all students. We have an electronic job board as part of our webpage and a Career Fair is held through the Career Services Center. Paralegal internships, many of which lead to jobs, are available after students complete their first semester. The career counselor meets with students individually to help match their needs and abilities to one of the many internship placements with attorneys and legal agencies.

The Skyline College paralegal program offers both day and evening classes at our convenient location in San Bruno, close to jobs and legal resources.

Courses taken for a Paralegal Certificate are upper division academic courses, which allow students to apply them as general elective courses toward a Bachelor degree and all other 4-year institutions.

For these and many other reasons, Skyline College is your best choice for quality paralegal education that will lead to a rewarding paralegal career.

Enrolling in the American Bar Association - ABA approved Paralegal Studies Program at Skyline College

You can enroll in Skyline College’s ABA approved paralegal program in a few quick steps. If you’re a new student or a returning student, please follow the directions here:

Once you’re admitted, please enroll in classes. You will find more information about paralegal courses here:

Please contact an academic counselor for guidance on an education plan to complete the paralegal certificate or degree pathway that works for you.

Textbooks are available online at WebSMART or at the Skyline Bookstore. Books are usually available the week before classes begin.

Skyline College Paralegal Studies Program professional connections and university transfer pathways

Many professional paralegal organizations welcome student members at a discount! Please contact the San Francisco Paralegal Association, the San Mateo County Legal Professionals Association, the Paralegal Section - The Bar Association of San Francisco, and/or the Santa Clara County Legal Professionals Association, depending on which one best meets your career goals.

Although paralegal courses do not earn law school credit, taking paralegal classes before applying to law school is a great idea because:

  • You can "test the waters" to see whether you really want to study law at a much less expensive course rate while learning a marketable skill.
  • Some of the instructors in the paralegal program also teach law school classes. You can learn from them about law school classes and how they differ from paralegal courses.
  • You can work as a paralegal while attending law school, and if you're lucky, your law firm will help pay your law school tuition.
  • Your first year of law school will be very easy!