Paralegals, or legal assistants, are professionals with training and experience in activities that support and augment the work of attorneys. They perform the research and investigative work for legal cases, organize evidence and prepare the legal documents needed. They may accompany lawyers to courts, make necessary arrangements with witnesses and experts, and take notes during the trials. Their administrative duties include organizing and maintaining legal files and draft documents.
Paralegals work mostly in private law firms, but they are also hired by businesses, corporations and government. Specializations in paralegal work include corporate law, litigation, intellectual property, immigration, estate planning, family law, real estate, and debt and bankruptcy.
The majority of paralegal training occurs in two year programs in community colleges, universities or online leading to the Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) degree. These programs cover the basic knowledge and skills needed by entry level paralegals.
A Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in paralegal studies may be required by major law firms, corporations or government legal departments. Those with bachelor’s degrees in other majors can acquire a paralegal post-baccalaureate certificate in less than a year.
The Master’s (MA) degree in paralegal studies is not required for most jobs, but may be sought in certain fields such as intellectual property law or some specialties in corporate practice. The M.A. is also a qualification for teaching paralegal studies.
Certification should not be confused with certificates. A paralegal program will issue certificates for academic work completed in the program of study. Certification establishes competence in the profession, usually from passing an examination by a professional agency. Passing the examination permits the designation of Certified Paralegal or Certified Legal Assistant.
Two organizations offer certification examinations to paralegals who wish to voluntarily take these examinations for establishing their competence and professionalism.
• The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) http://www.paralegals.org/default.asp?page=62 gives the Paralegal CORE Competency Exam. Those passing may display the CRP™ designation after their name. For paralegals with years of practical experience, NFPA offers the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE®) . The RP® designation signifies advanced professional achievement.
• The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) https://www.nala.org/certification offers the Certified Paralegal Examination.
Colleges in Massachusetts Offering Accredited Paralegal Programs
The following are the paralegal education programs in Massachusetts that are approved by the American Bar Association. The degrees or certificates offered are given.
• Baypath University www.baypath.edu
BA, BS, AS, and Post-baccalaureate certificate
• Bunker Hill Community College www.bhcc.mass.edu/index.php
AS and Post-associate Certificate
• Elms College www.elms.edu/academics/academic-divisions/social-sciences/legal-studies.xml
BA, AA, Post-baccalaureate Certificate, Legal Nurse Consulting Certificate
• Middlesex Community College (Bedford and Lowell Campuses) www.Middlesex.mass.edu/paralegal
AS, Post-graduate certificate
• Northern Essex Community College www.necc.mass.edu/programs/program.php?c=legalpara
AS, Post-baccalaureate Certificate
• North Shore Community College www.northshore.edu/departments
AA, AS, Post-baccalaureate Certificate
• Suffolk University www.suffolk.edu/paralegal
BA, BS, AS, Post-baccalaureate Certificate
Other schools in Massachusetts offering programs in paralegal studies are:
• Cape Cod Community College http://www.capecod.edu/ – Paralegal Certificate
• Marian Court College http://www.mariancourt.edu/ – AS
• Massachusetts Bay Community College http://www.massbay.edu/ – AS, Certificate
• Mildred Elley School – Pittsfield http://www.mildred-elley.edu/campus/pittsfield-ma/ – Certificate
• Mount Wachusett Community College http://mwcc.edu/ – Certificate
• Quincy College http://www.quincycollege.edu/ – AS, Certificate
Job Outlook and Salaries
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm predicted in 2015 that employment of paralegals will grow eight percent between 2014 and 2024, which is as fast as the average for all occupations. They note that competition for jobs in this field will be strong, and that formally trained paralegals with strong computer and database management skills would have the best job prospects.
According to BLS, the average annual salary in 2015 for paralegals in the nation was $52,390. The average that year for Massachusetts was $52,790. The Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA NECTA Division was listed as one of the metropolitan areas in the nation with the highest employment level in this occupation with an annual average salary of $53,510.
In a competitive job market, there are ways that paralegal students can enhance their skills and employability to attract job offers in the positions they seek. Here are some ideas offered by experienced paralegals: http://www.paralegal411.org/careers/job-advice/; http://paralegaltoday.com/issue_archive/features/feature1_jf04.htm.