If you’re interested in working in a legal procession but don’t wish to attend college for eight years or more, becoming a paralegal might be the perfect fit. Learn what it takes to become a paralegal in New Mexico as well as what you can expect in terms of career outlook.
In order to work as a paralegal in New Mexico, you must meet specific education and/or work requirements as set forth by the New Mexico Supreme Court. Although they all involve education or work experience, there are several different paths in which you may become a paralegal in New Mexico. These include the following:
• Successfully complete either an associate degree or post-baccalaureate certificate paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association
• Successfully complete a 60-semester hour post-secondary level paralegal studies program that meets educational requirements set by the American Bar Association
• Have a bachelor’s degree in any field and either two years of legal experience working under a licensed attorney or complete fifteen hours of paralegal courses
• Be a graduate from an accredited law school
• Have a high school diploma and have seven years of legal experience working under a licensed attorney
• Become nationally certified by an approved organization and have one year of experience working under a licensed attorney
Aspiring paralegals that need to obtain work experience may gain this through pro-bono or volunteer work. Although the terms paralegal and legal assistant are often used interchangeably, these two professions are not the same. Paralegals require more education and training and also have more duties and responsibilities than legal assistants.
Regardless of which path you choose to become a paralegal, obtaining certification is important despite it not being a legal requirement. You can obtain certification through either the National Association for Legal Assistants (NALA) or the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc (NFPA). While there may be other organizations offering paralegal certification, NFPA and NALA are the two that are approved in New Mexico.
To obtain certification, you must pass an examination that covers various areas of paralegal studies. To maintain certification, you must have either specific hours of work experience or must have completed a specific number of continuing education credits prior to the end of the certification period. NALA certification is valid for five years while NFPA certification is valid for two years.
Paralegal training may vary depending on what path you’ve chosen and what type of work experience you may already have in the legal field. A typical paralegal associate degree program must include at least 60 semester hours. Of these hours, at least 18 must be general education courses and another 18 must be paralegal courses. A post-baccalaureate certificate program will require fewer credits and may only take a year to complete. Their focus is also more focused specifically on paralegal courses.
Many paralegal training programs also require the student complete a supervised internship in a legal setting. Courses in a paralegal training program may include legal research and writing, American law and ethics, evidence, juvenile law and procedure, contract law, criminal law and public defender, among others.
There are about a dozen legal assistant or paralegal schools in New Mexico, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. These schools offer various training programs. Clovis Community College offers a two-year associate degree program while the University of New Mexico offers paralegal master degree and graduate certificate programs.
Santa Fe Community College offers both an associate degree and a certificate program in paralegal studies. The type of program the student chooses typically depends on what type of legal experience they may already possess or the type of degree they wish to earn.
Paralegal Job Outlook
According to a May 2015 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are about 1,580 paralegals and legal assistants working in New Mexico. The two cities in New Mexico with the largest number of paralegals employed are Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The BLS reports that paralegals can expect to see an employment growth of about eight percent between 2014 and 2024. Attorneys continue to utilize the services of paralegals as a cost-effective way to service clients thus allowing attorneys more time to meet with more clients.
As of May 2015, the mean annual wage for paralegals working in New Mexico was $41,840. This wage was substantially lower than the national average of $52,390. However, factors such as work experience, education, place of employment and geographic location can all play a role in determining wages. For instance, Salary.com reports that paralegals in Santa Fe earned average yearly wages of $45,938 as of May 2016 with some wages as high as $57,000 or more. In Albuquerque, paralegals earned average wages of about $47,523. Paralegals working in the northern part of the state in Farmington earned average yearly wages of about $36,614.