The paralegal profession is an attractive job option for many, but becoming a paralegal requires some time and training. Here’s a look at the future of the profession and how to become a paralegal in Idaho.
Paralegal Job Outlook
Almost 25% of all the legal professionals in the state of Idaho are paralegals, making it a very attractive profession. Over 900 people currently work in the paralegal (or legal assistant) field in the state. Because the use of paralegals allows firms to lower overall costs, the job outlook for this profession is positive. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts that, nationwide, the profession will grow faster than that of other legal professions, and the Idaho Department of Labor predicted a paralegal employment growth rate of nearly 10% between the years of 2012 and 2022.
Paralegal salaries vary greatly from city to city, but in most major cities, the median salary is over $49,000. As of 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average salary for paralegals in the state of Idaho was $40,870, but this includes part-time professionals. Paralegals in the top ten percent make an average of $59,290. This figure is below the national average, but that is probably because Idaho has a lower cost of living than many other states.
As a state, Idaho maintains no specific requirements for paralegal certification. However, firms will be more willing to hire paralegals who have received reliable training and proven their knowledge. Firms like to see candidates with paralegal degrees, and will often view the passing of a certification exam as valid evidence of a paralegal’s knowledge and skills. Although the state of Idaho itself does not require certification, voluntary certifications are available from the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), and the National Association for Legal Professionals (NALS).
Paralegal training can be obtained at a community college (where one can earn an A.S. in paralegal studies), at a four-year college or university (where one can earn a B.A. in paralegal studies), vocational programs (which prepare students for paralegal certification tests), or on the job. Some paralegals work their way up into the profession, starting as legal secretaries, legal document prepares, or other types of legal assistants. Internships are also available as an on-the-job training option.
There are a variety of schools and programs offering paralegal training in the state of Idaho. Though none are currently officially approved by the American Bar Association (ABA), employers generally consider the training provided by such programs to be fitting for entry into the profession. The two best-known schools offering paralegal training are Idaho State University and North Idaho College.
Students can earn an associate’s degree in paralegal studies at the College of Technology at Idaho State University. The four-semester, 63-hour degree program is highly selective, admitting only twelve students per year. Required subjects include Introduction to Paralegal Studies and Legal Ethics & Professionalism. Numerous electives are available, and students serve internships during their final semester to obtain on-the-job training.
North Idaho College also offers a paralegal associate’s degree. The course is 67 to 68 credits, at least 29 of which must be paralegal courses. Other required courses include Keyboarding, Database, and Outlook. During their final semester, students serve a minimum of 150 internship hours
Obtaining national certification after completing a program will further enhance a candidate’s chances of being hired.
Requirements for National Certification
Those seeking NALA certification must pass a written exam that covers areas ranging from ethics, legal research, and communications to judgment and legal analysis. The NALA also offers advanced certification in 26 different areas of practice. Candidates seeking advanced certification must complete a 20-hour online course and pass a related exam.
The NFPA also offers two certification exams, the Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCE) and the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) . The PACE exam is designed for those who have already obtained years of practical experience and who wish to prove their advanced competency in the field.
A would-be paralegal’s third option for certification is the NALS, which offers the Professional Paralegal (PP) exam. The four-part exam takes one day and is designed for those who are graduating from an ABA-approved program or who have already obtained three to five years of paralegal experience but who want a nationwide credential. The exam covers legal procedure and terminology and substantive and procedural law.