Whether working in legal aid services or as an assistant to a lawyer, the paralegal field offers a rewarding and challenging career. In the state of Minnesota the requirements for being a paralegal are minimal compared to many other states. Even then, there are certain expectations and recommendations that should be followed for those looking into a career in this field.
While certification is not required in Minnesota, some paralegals have found that becoming nationally certified has helped them find a job or to advance further in their career. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations has two certification exams, the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) and the Paralegal Core Competency Exam (PCCE).
The PACE is a four hour, 200 question exam used to gauge the competency level of experienced paralegals. The questions involve hypothetical issues and test the application of general knowledge, experience and critical analysis. The exam covers five domains, which are performed routinely by paralegals regardless of their practice area or location, administration of client legal matters, development of client legal matters, factual and legal research, factual and legal writing and office administration. As well general knowledge of these fields, the exam includes ethics, as well as technology and terminology.
The PCCE was developed to assess the knowledge and abilities of the entry-level paralegal. Compared to the PACE, it is a relatively newer examination and contains 125 multiple choice questions and candidates have 210 minutes to complete the test. Of these 125 questions, 15 questions randomly dispersed through the test are graded, but not scored. These questions serve to build up the bank of available questions for the PCCE. Two major areas are encompassed by this exam, paralegal practice and substantive areas of law.
The state of Minnesota does not require that those working as paralegals have any sort of certification or formal paralegal degree. In spite of this, most lawyers will expect a paralegal they hire to carry at least a degree and have some familiarity with paralegal work. While at present, there are no certifications required, it is possible in the future that Minnesota will change this, as many states have done in recent years.
Each of the certification exams have their own requirements. To take the PCCE, a paralegal is expected to have either a bachelor’s degree in any field with either six months of experience or a paralegal certificate or an associates degree in any field with either a paralegal certificate or a full year’s experience. As well, those holding either a bachelor or associate degree in paralegal studies or its military equivalent can take the PCCE upon completion of their coursework. As well, depending on your degree and experience, there are usually requirements of continuing legal education and ethics courses taken within the year of taking the exam. The PACE requires an associates degree in paralegal studies and six years of paralegal experience, a bachelor’s degree in any course of study with three years of experience or a bachelor’s degree in a paralegal program and two years of paralegal experience.. As well the PACE certification requires twelve hours of continuing legal education including an hour of ethics every two years to maintain credentials.
Many colleges and universities offer courses in paralegal studies, including community colleges and online programs. To earn an associates degree in paralegal studies, most programs require a total of 60 credits earned with one half to two thirds of those credits coming from legal courses. As well, there is usually a requirement for English writing. For a bachelor’s degree, most programs require 120 credits, with 40 to 50 of those hours coming from legal courses, including several from more advanced level courses. Along with those requirements, there are general education and elective requirements similar to other bachelor programs.
The state of Minnesota has several paralegal programs accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) and American Association of Paralegal Education (AafPE). While as mentioned above, accreditation is not required presently for those seeking a career as a paralegal in Minnesota, the potential future requirement of such, or the available career options for those who are accredited make that encouraged. These programs are offered all across the state. As well, there are several online courses of study available.
Paralegal Job Outlook
The paralegal field is clearly a growing field. As the legal world gets murkier and more detail-oriented, the need for paralegals is increasing everywhere. In 2011, Minnesota had 4,000 people employed as paralegals with that number expected to reach 5,000 within the next ten years. While many of these jobs are centered around the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, there is still a need for paralegals throughout the state as well as across the nation.
The average paralegal in Minnesota made $52,130 in 2011.While this amount is usually higher in larger cities like Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth, even in smaller markets the paralegal field can prove lucrative. This, along with the anticipated increase in demand would make being a paralegal a great career choice, especially for those whom have an interest in the legal field.