If the legal profession interests you but attending school for eight or more years does not, consider becoming a paralegal. Learn what it takes to become a paralegal in Vermont and what you can expect in terms of duties, salary and training.
According to the National Federation of Paralegals Association (NFPA), a paralegal must generally have education, training or work experience in a legal environment. While some paralegals may be hired without training and receive on-the-job training, most individuals are required to complete some sort of legal training program. The NFPA reports that at least 85% of paralegals have completed a formal training program.
A completed training program is also required for obtaining certification. Paralegals may obtain work experience through volunteer or pro-bono work. Once the individual has completed training and obtained some experience, he or she may apply for national certification.
Obtaining certification is not only very important but may also be required as a condition of employment. To earn the title of certified paralegal, you must pass a national certification exam. Before you can take the certification exams, you’ll have to meet the requirements set by the organization. Although they may vary, almost all of the organizations require that the aspiring paralegal complete a formal training program that results in a certificate, associate degree or a bachelor’s degree.
The following organizations offer paralegal certification exams.
• National Federation of Paralegal Associations – offers the PACE and PCC exam
• Association for Legal Professionals – offers the PP exam
• National Association of Legal Assistants – offers the CLA/CP exam
Although it varies by organization, you will also be required to have work experience. For instance, to be eligible to take the PACE exam, you must have at least four years of legal work experience if you have an associate degree in paralegal studies or at least two years of legal work experience if you have a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies.
Depending on the organization, certification may be valid for anywhere from two years to five years. To ensure that you remain certified, you’ll have to complete a minimum number of hours of work experience or complete some continuing education credits prior to the end of certification period.
The type of paralegal training you’ll be required to complete will depend on what training or experience you already have and what type of career you aspire to have. In addition to taking various legal courses, these programs also require students to complete clinical internships to obtain experience in real legal settings. This may be working in a legal office, court room or similar legal environments.
As a paralegal student you can expect to take courses like criminal law; family court and the law; juvenile law and procedure; research and writing, criminal law and enforcement, law and ethics; and evidence, among others. You’ll also take some general education courses.
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that only two Vermont colleges offer paralegal training programs. Burlington College offers a 30-semester certificate program and Champlain College offers a legal assistant/paralegal bachelor degree program. The certificate program can be completed in one to two years while the bachelor degree program may take up to four years to complete. Although some schools offer bachelor or master degree paralegal programs, paralegal or legal assistant programs are typically certificate or associate degree programs.
You may also find paralegal programs offered through distance learning. It’s important to realize, however, that some courses will need to be completed in an actual classroom or legal setting. When choosing a paralegal training program, it’s important to choose one that’s approved by the American Bar Association. This will be beneficial when obtaining certification. A list of approved paralegal schools is listed on the ABA site.
Paralegal Job Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts paralegals should see an employment growth of eight percent during the decade of 2014-2024. Paralegals are becoming extremely popular in the legal environment because they can provide many of the same services as lawyers but at a cheaper rate, which makes them very cost-effective. Their use in a law office also allows lawyers to get more work done and see more clients. The BLS reports that there are about 570 paralegals employed in Vermont in 2015.
Paralegals working in Vermont earned mean annual wages of $52,240 as of May 2015. This salary is very consistent with the $52,390 that was earned by paralegals nationwide. Factors like education, training, place of employment, years of experience and geographic location can all affect earning potential. For instance, a May 2016 report by Salary.com indicates that paralegals in Colchester and Rutland earned average annual wages of $48,068 and $50,022, respectively.