Paralegals, or legal assistants, are an important part of the legal profession. The lawyer’s work requires a ton of research and preparatory work, and the paralegal assists in the research and investigations for legal cases, organizing evidence and preparing the legal documents needed. They may accompany lawyers to court and manage schedules with witnesses and experts. Their duties may also include organizing and maintaining legal files and draft documents.
In Wyoming, paralegals are not required to be licensed, but as paraprofessionals, they must work under the supervision of a licensed attorney and may not give legal advice or represent clients in court. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in 2015, there were 560 paralegals employed in the state.
Since there are no license requirements in Wyoming, paralegals could be trained on the job by private law firms. However, most employers would look for formal training in a paralegal program that is approved by the American Bar Association (ABA),
ABA requirements for approval include the specification that a paralegal program must consist of sixty semester hours of study in general education as well as legal specialty courses. The intent is to facilitate the student’s continuation to a bachelor’s degree program. The program must also be offered in a parent institution that is accredited.
The program will have courses that introduce students to the paralegal profession and provide an overview of legal principles. Legal specialty courses include topics such as legal research, legal writing, litigation, probate, real estate, and other courses that emphasize practical paralegal skills. ABA also recommends that the program include field experiences such as internships in legal settings.
To be successful in these courses and in paralegal work requires excellent oral and written English, accuracy and attention to details, efficiency and organizational skills. Paralegal students must also learn research and investigative procedures and develop their problem solving and communication skills.
Colleges in Wyoming Offering Paralegal Programs
There are two paralegal programs in the state that ABA has approved.
Casper College http://www.caspercollege.edu/paralegal, located in the city of Casper, has a 64 credit program that leads to an Associate of Arts degree in paralegal studies. It also provides a nine month post-baccalaureate certificate program in paralegal studies for those who have bachelor’s degrees in other majors. Students are offered the opportunity of taking the CLA Exam (Certified Legal Assistant Exam) to establish their credentials, which is required by some employers. This Exam is given three times a year and a course to prepare for it is offered each fall. The college also provides job placement assistance.
Laramie County Community College http://lccc.wy.edu/programs/paralegal/index.aspx offers a paralegal studies program at its main campus in Cheyenne. It has a 64 credit Associate of Applied Science program and also a 19 credit post-baccalaureate certificate program.
Opportunities for Professionalism
In a competitive labor market, the extra steps you take can help you stand out as a promising candidate. Joining and attending the activities of a professional organization not only provides learning about current legal issues but gives you a chance to meet and network with practicing paralegals. In Wyoming, you can join the Legal Assistants of Wyoming (LAW) as a student for annual dues of $25. LAW is affiliated with the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). It conducts continuing paralegal education seminars twice yearly in various locations throughout the state.
You can also apply for national certification by taking a certifying test with one of three national organizations: The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) http://www.paralegals.org/default.asp?page=18, (NALS) the Association of Legal Professionals http://www.nals.org/?page=certification, and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) https://www.nala.org/certification/certtest1. Passing one of these tests will permit you to place a designation after your name, showing a national certification. Since employers of different geographic areas may have a preference of one organization over the others, you should check this out before proceeding.
Job Outlook and Salaries
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes232011.htm reported that in 2015, paralegals and legal assistants nationwide earned an average annual wage of $52,390. The average that year for Wyoming was $46,660. However, BLS reported that the Southwest Wyoming nonmetropolitan area was one of the nation’s top paying nonmetropolitan areas, with an average annual wage of $54,630.
Paralegals are hired by law firms, corporate legal departments and government agencies. The expected growth for this occupation between 2014 and 2024 is eight percent, or as fast as average. However, there are reports that employers are hiring more paralegals to perform tasks once done by lawyers in order to reduce costs. As a paralegal student, it would be to your advantage to keep an eye and ear open to opportunities and legal news locally and nationally. This will not only keep you abreast on current issues important to this profession, but will build your understanding and enthusiasm about paralegal work.