A paralegal is generally defined in Iowa as a legal paraprofessional who works under the supervision of an attorney. The attorney is also held legally responsible for the paralegal’s work product. Iowa does not strictly regulate paralegals, and formal education or certification is optional. This gives candidates many options for becoming a paralegal. It also allows candidates willing to get a little extra certification to stand out from the crowd.
Paralegal Certification Programs and Requirements
Since Iowa does not formally regulate the paralegal profession, a person could simply receive informal training on the job and be technically considered a paralegal. The reality is that the vast majority of law firms and businesses needing paralegals are not interested in untrained applicants when there are plenty of degree-holding and certified applicants available. A person hoping to get into the paralegal profession without formal training is likely to be disappointed.
The good news is that there are many degree and certification options available. Paralegal studies is a rapidly growing profession, and the educational community has greatly increased educational opportunities. A prospective student should study carefully their options when choosing a program. Most firms will desire a graduate from a program recognized by the American Bar Association.
Beyond schooling, paralegals who wish to stand out from other applicants may want to get certified with one of the national paralegal associations. In Iowa, the preferred certification is the CLA/CP offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants. Those who wish to do this must meet some education and work requirements and then pass an exam. They will become certificated paralegals.
Paralegal Training Options
Students have the choice between a formal degree in paralegal studies or a certificate program. A formal degree is a typical two to four-year program that includes general education classes in addition to paralegal study classes. Students will graduate with an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree in paralegal studies. This full education makes applicants more attractive to employers. It also better prepares the paralegal to move up in the legal profession and become a full attorney. Law schools usually require the applicant to already have a bachelor’s degree.
Students that wish to enter the job market faster can opt for a certificate program. They study only paralegal topics with no general education classes. Certificate programs typically take only a few months or one semester to complete.
Paralegal Schools in Iowa
There are many different schools and programs that offer paralegal training in Iowa, but remember that it is worth it to be selective about a program. The following are the top four program options.
Des Moines Area Community College
This school proves that paralegal students do not have to attend a top university to get a quality paralegal education. This community college has one of only two programs in the state with ABA approval, which means they have achieved the highest levels of quality and consistency. It is an associate’s degree program with combined general education and legal studies. Students who already have an associate’s degree may simply add paralegal certification and take only the legal courses.
Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids
The other ABA-approved program is also held by a community college. This is also an associate’s program designed to be completed in two years. It stands out as also offering a legal internship as part of the degree, which gives students valuable work experience and professional connections before graduation.
University of Iowa
Those looking to attend a larger school or those wanting something beyond an associate’s degree may wish to consider the University of Iowa. This school stands out from some of the other big names because it achieved a rank of 26 in the US News Best Law Schools Rankings. While it does not have ABA approval, its ranking does show that it provides students with a quality legal education.
Kaplan University Mason City Campus
Kaplan University is a big name, sporting multiple campuses and some of the highest student populations of all schools in the state. The Mason City Campus, in particular, stands out for having the highest graduation rate of students, which is one mark of a successful program.
Paralegal Job Outlook
The paralegal profession has seen very strong growth in the last several years even as the job outlook for full attorneys has waned. In a tighter market, many law firms and businesses are looking to cut costs, and they are much more likely to hire a paralegal instead of a full attorney. According to the BLS, the job outlook is expected to grow 8 percent by 2024. That is a rather conservative estimate compared to other sources, which put growth as high as 17 percent. The bottom line is that it is a good time to be a paralegal, but that competition can be fierce and that applicants should get the education and certification that makes them stand out.
Paralegal Salary in Iowa
Paralegals command a respectable salary averaging about $48,000 per year or about $23.50 an hour. Salary can be affected by many factors, including level of education and job experience, the size and prestige of the employing law firm or business and the applicant’s level of certification.
While paralegals do not make as near as much as an attorney, they tend to have much less student loan debt, better overall job prospects and many opportunities for growth in the legal profession. Overall, it is an excellent option for a legal career.