Arkansas is a state on the move, and this means that the need for professional legal counsel is growing by the year. All of those lawyers, government agencies, and large corporations require assistants that are well versed in the principles of paralegal studies in order to provide clients with the quality information and service that they expect. With more than 2,000 paralegals already working across all sectors and various industries in Arkansas, there is a need for newly trained individuals to enter the profession.
Paralegal Certification Requirements in Arkansas
Existing state law in Arkansas does not place a training or certification requirement on its paralegals. Law firms and other employment based entities are responsible, however, for supervision their own legal entities, which means that certain requirements will need to be met prior to being offered a particular position.
The Arkansas Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3 defines a paralegal as a professional who actively assists a lawyer on certain legal matters. As such, the lawyer assumes the duty of making sure the paralegal acts in accordance with generally accepted legal principles in the state of Arkansas. It is precisely because of rule 5.3 that there are no training or educational stipulations in place regarding the paralegal field. This should not be taken to mean however, that law firms or other types of organizations, including governmental agencies, disregard a college degree or certification out of hand. While some employers will offer on the job training, the salary is much lower and the jobs more difficult to land. It is better to position oneself for entry into this professional field by earning a degree from a regionally accredited university of college.
Training to Become a Paralegal in Arkansas
The state of Arkansas does offer a variety of options by which interested individuals can learn the skills necessary to be a successful paralegal. The first such option is on the job training. There are certain advantages to this method of gaining the requisite skills, such as being able to learn under the direct supervision of qualified and experienced professionals in the legal field. This method of training also eliminates the need to focus solely on school, allowing individuals who do not have a financial cushion a means of entering the workforce as quickly as possible. There is a potential downside to this as well considering that starting salaries are likely to be lower in a profession that is already lagging a bit behind in Arkansas. Options may be limited as well considering that many law firms, and government agencies in particular, will only hire certified paralegals at minimum, with many require at least as an Associates degree.
In Arkansas there are several different Associate and Bachelor degree programs that are specifically tailored to aspiring paralegals. This is an addition to various institutions that offer certification programs, the advantage being that they take much less time to complete and are less expensive in the long run. By earning a degree, however, it is felt that the job outlook is enhanced because of the marketability that comes with having a broad general studies background. Many individuals might be intrigued by the possibility of passing an accredited certification program, entering the job market, and then returning to school later to get a more advanced college or university degree. That is part of the appeal of the paralegal profession, and should serve the legal field well with a new crop of competent individuals enters its ranks in the coming years.
Schools Offering Paralegal Education in Arkansas
There are several different educational options for students in Arkansas who desire to become a paralegal. The most notable paralegal certificate program in the state is offered by National Park Community College in Hot Springs, Arkansas. This program will begin with several general education courses in the areas of English Composition, business math, and information systems. After that will come the courses in paralegal studies that lead to eventual certification.
There are also several different recognized Paralegal Associate’s Degree programs offered in Arkansas. The most notable among these are Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville, Pulaski Technical College in Little Rock, and the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith.
Employment Outlook and Salary Potential for Paralegals in Arkansas
According to the latest estimates by a leading Arkansas labor market information source, the number of jobs available for paralegals in the state of Arkansas is scheduled to grow by nearly 24 percent in the coming decade. This essentially means that more than 55 jobs should be added to the paralegal field each year in Arkansas, which is certainly a positive trend. The average mean salary for paralegals in the state currently stands just over $37,000.