There are many professionals needed to keep the legal system afloat. One of these is a paralegal. A paralegal is a person who is qualified to carry out duties of a law professional but does not have all the qualifications to be classified as a lawyer. They can work for a lawyer directly, a law office or group of lawyers, or a cooperation that employs a legal team. The duties of a paralegal might include doing research for a case, preparing certain legal documents, and assisting in case exploration.
In the state of Wisconsin, there are no regulations on what type of certification a person needs to obtain to become a paralegal. There are national certifications however that could help a person find employment by putting themselves ahead of others competing for the same position.
There are three different organizations that offer a test for national certification. These are the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), and the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS). The NFPA offers two tests; the PACE and the PCC. NALA offers the CLA/CP. NALS offers the PP. Each of these exams has different requirements that must be met before you can sit for the exam. These requirements include education and experience so a person looking to take a certification test should research the differences and make their choice based on which qualifications they have.
While some employers might ask that an applicant has certain schooling or a specific certification, in Wisconsin, there are no official requirements for becoming a paralegal. A person may work as a paralegal with only on the job training. The lawyer or group of lawyers a paralegal works for assume responsibility for training any paralegals that work for them. This includes any documents or research done by the paralegal as well as their professional conduct.
As a paralegal, a person might receive on the job training, a certificate, a degree, or a combination of all three. The American Bar Association (ABA) is responsible for approving training and education programs based on strict standards. While it is possible to complete a training or education program that is not approved by the ABA, it is not advised. Most employers and organizations offering certifications will require any training or education to be approved by the ABA to be considered. Also, make sure that the school offering the training or degree is accredited by the state board for the same reason.
There are associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees available for paralegal studies. These generally take 2-5 years to complete. If a person already has a degree in a different field of study, they might be able to get a certificate in paralegal studies in a shorter amount of time. A degree requires general education studies in addition to paralegal studies while certificates do not. This is why a person that already has a degree and therefore has already completed general education studies can just get a certificate instead of a whole different degree. There is an option to get a certificate without ever having a degree. People will choose this option when they want to become a certified paralegal in a short amount of time.
There are many schools that offer a paralegal degree or certificate online. Some of these include Kaplan University, ITT Technical Institute, Post University, and Keiser University. Rasmussen College has a campus in Appleton, Wisconsin that offers both an associate’s degree and a certificate in paralegal studies. This is best for students who prefer to be in a brick and mortar classroom rather than on online classroom.
Paralegal Job Outlook
In 2011 there were an estimated 3,470 paralegals in the state of Wisconsin. It is predicted that from 2012-2022 there will be a 19.3% increase in the paralegals employed in Wisconsin. This rate of increase is higher than the national outlook which is set to 17%. This means that there will be almost 200 new job openings for paralegals in Wisconsin every year until 2022.
The salary of a paralegal ranges greatly depending on location. While the bigger cities in Wisconsin such as the Minniannapolis and St. Paul had median salaries over $53,000 per year in 2011, smaller non-metropolitan areas such as Oshkosh had median salaries at around $32,000 per year. In 2014 the average salary across the state was just over $46,000 a year. This is comparable to the national average of around $48,000 per year due to Wisconsin’s low cost of living. It is estimated that as demands for paralegals goes up in the coming years that the salaries offered will rise as well.