A popular job option in Alabama is that of the paralegal. Becoming a paralegal allows you to work in the legal profession without the expense or struggle of law school. More and more firms are turning to paralegals as a way to reduce their overall costs.
Job Outlook for Paralegals in Alabama
There are over 2,700 paralegals in the state of Alabama, many of them employed in the Birmingham metropolitan area by law firms (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics). Because paralegals are needed by insurance companies, the government, and businesses as well, the job outlook for paralegals in Alabama continues to improve. In Alabama, the paralegal job field will grow by 17% between the years 2012 and 2022, if BLS estimates are correct.
Paralegal Salaries in Alabama
The average salary of a paralegal employed in the state of Alabama is over $45,600. Those paralegals who are in the top ten percent of their profession earn over $61,600 a year. Pay ranges widely by city, however. For instance, the median pay is $48,425 in Auburn but only $43,000 in Tuscaloosa.
While you are not required to be certified to work as a paralegal in the state of Alabama, certification will give you an edge in hiring. Paralegal certification is available on a national, rather than a state, level. There are currently three organizations that provide voluntary, national certification to paralegals residing in Alabama, and they offer four different certification tests. Programs are available to prepare for these tests and, in some cases, self-study is an option.
National Certification Requirements
To be nationally certified as a paralegal, a candidate must pass one of the four exams offered by one of the above three mentioned organizations. The four available exams are as follows:
1. The Paralegal Core Competency Exam (PCCE) is offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) and was established in 2011. To take the exam, you need an associate’s degree or B.A. in paralegal studies or a combination of continuing education and experience. The exam fee is $215, and the exam lasts 2.5 hours. It covers the paralegal practice and substantive issues of law, with topics ranging from ethics, legal research, and communication to torts, real estate, contracts, and business organizations.
2. The Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) has been offered by the NFPA since 1996. To take this exam, you need a B.A. in any field plus three years of paralegal experience or an associate’s degree in paralegal studies plus six years of experience. The exam fee is $225, and the exam lasts four hours. The exam covers development of client legal matters, factual and legal research, factual and legal writing, and office administration.
3. The Certified Paralegal Exam (CP) was first offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) in 1976. To take the exam, you must have a combination of related experience and education. The cost of the exam is $250, and it covers a variety of subjects including federal law and procedure, administrative law, bankruptcy, business organizations, contracts, family law, criminal law, litigation, and estate planning.
4. The Professional Paralegal Exam (PP) has been offered by the National Association of Legal Professionals (NALS) since 2004. Five years of experience is required to take this test, or three years with a paralegal degree. The cost of the exam is $250 (members save $50), and it takes one day. The four-part exam covers communications, legal knowledge and skills, ethics and judgement, and all areas of substantive law.
Some firms will require that you be nationally certified. Others will ask for a “certificated” paralegal, which means that you have obtained paralegal training and received a certificate from a paralegal program. Clarify the requirements of the job with your potential employer, as Alabama employers sometimes confuse these two terms. Students desiring to become paralegals can obtain training through a degree program or a certificate program.
Paralegal Schools in Alabama
Several schools and programs provide paralegal training in the state of Alabama, but not all are accredited or approved of by the American Bar Association (ABA). ABA-approved programs are offered by the following schools:
• Auburn University at Montgomery (M.A., B.A., or certificate program)
• Community College of the Air Force in Montgomery (paralegal associates degree)
• Faulkner University in Montgomery (legal studies associates degree)
• Gadsden State Community College in Gadsden (paralegal associates degree)
• Samford University in Birmingham (associates, B.A., or certificate program)
• South University in Montgomery (paralegal associates degree or B.A.)
Many other non-ABA approved programs are also available that provide useful training to future paralegals.