I fell into the paralegal field by taking a transcriptionist position at a law firm to support me through graduate school. A few months in, I was bored and completing my work with hours of work day to spare. I told the Managing Attorney that I could do more. He handed me the CPLR and a case file. “You’ve typed up Bills of Particulars before, so try putting one together. You can do it in your spare time here or at home, but I need your draft in two days.” I read over the rules and file, pulled language from BoPs in similar cases, and cobbled together a draft. He made three changes and made me his personal Legal Assistant that day. He mentored me for two and half years. I stuck with the legal field for well over a decade, learning from attorneys, CLEs, my own research, etc. I built upon my experience and became, if I say so myself, a fairly impressive Civil Litigation Paralegal.
A few years ago, my firm wanted to promote me but said I would need a Paralegal Certificate in order to qualify (my bachelors and graduate degrees combined with 10+ years experience was somehow not enough). I signed up for an “intensive” online program offered through a SUNY school. It was a joke. The work was rudimentary or completely irrelevant to what most paralegals do on a daily basis. The information about how to do legal research was so basic that it included “how to read legal documents,” which boiled down to read the document, look up the words you don’t know, and if you are still confused, ask someone for help. Really. It was nonsensical. Anyway, I breezed through the course, which functionally wasted $1,600 of my firm’s money, and then I got the promotion. Most of the Legal Secretaries I have encountered have their high school diplomas and a Paralegal Certificate, but most of the Paralegals I’ve encountered have a four year degree or supplemented their education with CLEs and National Certification, because the Paralegal Certificate programs are fairly useless beyond simply helping you get the job.
I encourage you to check out the The National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. to find your local Paralegal Association. Often, these groups have low cost student memberships, provide mentor programs, offer CLEs at low-to-no cost, have networking events, etc. They can really help you to supplement your Paralegal education and get connections in the field.