Paralegals or legal assistants in Illinois have numerous job opportunities. With career-enhancing trends such as independent and contract paralegal positions and virtual law offices, aspiring paralegals can expect technology and the forward-thinking initiatives of professional associations to pave the way for a positive future.
A paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training or on-the-job experience who is employed or hired by an attorney, law office, corporation or governmental agency, etc. However, they are not authorized to give legal advice, accept a case or act as an attorney in court.
The American Bar Association (ABA) has a Standing Committee that acts as a governing body for paralegals. The ABA “develops and promotes policies regarding the education, employment, training and effective use of paralegals.”
The American Association for Paralegal Education advocates quality education for paralegals. Members of the nonprofit organization develop academic standards that assist graduates with their careers.
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) does not have a mandatory licensing or certification program. However, NALA does have a voluntary program. It consists of five areas of expertise: communications, ethics, judgment and analytical ability, legal research and substantive law. Certification is granted after the successful completion of every section and is valid for five years.
Paralegals assist attorneys with every aspect of a legal case. They serve as an intermediary between the attorney and the client. They should have the following skills.
– Legal expertise – Draft legal documents, e.g., contracts, pleadings, motions and agreements. Conduct legal searches and help with case management.
– Interpersonal skills – Able to work independently and collaboratively with all staff, clients, etc.
– Administrative – Maintain calendar, multitask and organize duties and complete e-discovery projects.
– Excellent communication skills and client service – Answer phones and greet clients and visitors in a courteous manner. Assist with interviewing witnesses and preparing them for court.
– Computer proficiency – Demonstrate technical skills with Microsoft Office Suite including Word, Excel Power Point, Outlook and Access.
– Some positions require a security clearance.
To qualify for paralegal certification, a paralegal must have one of the following educational requirements.
– A high school diploma, GED plus seven years’ experience as a paralegal under the guidance of a member of the Bar. Prior to the exam date, proof of 20 hours of ongoing legal studies and credit should have been completed within a two-year period.
– An associate degree program
– A post-baccalaureate certificate program in paralegal studies
– A bachelor’s degree program in paralegal studies
– A paralegal program which has a minimum of 60 semester hours. The program must consist of 900 clock hours or 90 quarter hours. Substantive legal courses must comprise a minimum of 15 semester hours or 225 clock hours.
A bachelor’s degree is not limited to a major in legal studies. Study in any field plus one year’s experience as a paralegal is acceptable. Completion of at least 15 semester hours or 22.5 quarter hours or 225 clock hours or equivalent CEU hours is required.
According to NALA’s 2012 job survey, 14.4 percent of applicants for paralegal certification had a high school diploma, 30.5 percent had an associate degree and 44.6 percent held a bachelor’s degree. The survey was completed by 10,599 applicants and 95 percent were female.
As of April 17, 2016, The ABA listed 17 ABA-approved colleges and universities in Illinois. Some of the schools include DuPage, Elgin Community College, Loyola University Chicago and William Rainey Harper College.
The job outlook for paralegals is very good. Applicants with experience, formal training from an ABA-approved school, strong computer and database management proficiency will make ideal candidates.
The industries with the highest levels of jobs are legal services – 203,290, local government – 14,110, federal executive branch – 13,200, state government – 9,950 and management of companies – 6,660.
Industries with the highest salaries include semiconductor and electronic component manufacturing which paid $42.92 hourly mean wage. Software publishers paid $37.09 and professional and commercial equipment wholesalers paid $35.21.
Areas of Specialization
The role of the paralegal is applicable to varying industries. Specializations include the following.
– Medical malpractice, criminal law, insurance defense, global legal, boutique law firms, family law, retail, aerospace, banking and finance, national law firms, government agencies and public school systems.
Rankings in Illinois
In 2014, there were 279,500 jobs in the nation. As of May 2015, Illinois ranked #5 with 11,140 jobs.
Growth Rate Statistics
Career opportunities for paralegal is projected to grow by 18 percent during 2014 – 2024. Employment change for 2014 – 2024 is 21, 200.
Paralegal Salary in Illinois
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual wage for legal assistants was $48,350 as of May 2014.