Becoming a Paralegal in Oklahoma
In today’s competitive economy, becoming a paralegal can be a path to a well-paying and rewarding career. For Oklahoma residents, whether they are just entering the job market or are preparing to transition from another job, this career can provide excellent personal and professional opportunities.
Paralegal Certification in Oklahoma
Currently, there are no state or federal certification requirements for individuals wishing to become a paralegal in Oklahoma. However, in 2000, the Oklahoma Bar Association published the Minimum Qualification Standards for Legal Assistants/Paralegals, which set out the basic standards which all Oklahoma paralegals should be able to meet. These standards require that any Oklahoma paralegals meet one of the following qualifications.
● Successfully completed the National Association of Legal Assistant’s Certified Legal Assistant Examination Exam or the National Federation of Paralegal Association’s Paralegal Advanced Competency.
● Graduation from an American Bar Association (ABA) approved program of study for legal assistants and paralegals.
● Graduation from high school as well as completing a program that is substantially compliant with current ABA standards. Obtained a baccalaureate or associate degree in any field from an accredited school and has two years of work experience or who has completed a course of study compliant to an ABA approved paralegal study program.
● Have completed high school as well as graduating from an accredited school for paralegals that requires at least 60 semester hours of study including the current ABA required amount in legal specialty courses, and either two years of substantive full-time work experience or the completion of a bachelor’s or associate degree at a qualified institution.
● Have a high school diploma or the equivalent and at least five years of work experience in a related legal field.
In general, individuals seeking to become a paralegal will receive intensive education in legal research, technical legal writing and how computers are used in the legal field. These courses will focus on the duties and responsibilities of the paralegal in the law office while also preparing them to provide the assistance their supervising attorneys will need. In addition, most programs will also include courses regarding subjects such as international law, corporate law or environmental law, depending on the specialty the paralegal is training for.
Many schools offer paralegal programs for their students. In general, becoming a qualified Oklahoma paralegal requires attending a school that is either certified by the ABA or is substantially compliant with ABA guidelines. In most cases, completing a paralegal program will take approximately two years, depending on the individual’s schedule and the nature of the program itself.
Obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree
One route some individuals take is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in another subject before becoming a certified paralegal. In many cases, law firms prefer to hire individuals with training in their particular field, in addition to being a qualified paralegal. For example, a law firm specializing in environmental law might prefer to hire a paralegal who also has a bachelor’s degree in environmental science or a related field. Finally, some paralegal certificate programs are designed for individuals who already possess a bachelor’s degree.
Work Experience and Internships
Another path for individuals who desire to become an Oklahoma paralegal is to obtain an internship from their school or seek out a job in a legal office in order to obtain practical work experience. By demonstrating their skills in a practical setting, paralegals can dramatically improve their ability to obtain a well-paying job with an Oklahoma law firm.
The Job Outlook for Paralegals
Currently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that there are approximately 3,000 fully employed paralegals in Oklahoma. In addition, the BLS believes that this field’s job opportunities will increase by about 8 percent between 2014 and 2024.
However, there is some evidence that these predictions may be overly conservative. A growing number of law firms have started to use paralegals for a wider range of duties as a part of a drive to improve the efficiency of the business while also reducing costs for the firm’s clients. In addition, a growing number of legal services and research can be performed by a qualified paralegal with little or no supervision by an attorney. This is likely to see the job opportunities for paralegals drastically expand in the near future.
According to the BLS, the mean salary for paralegals in Oklahoma is $43,400, while the BLS estimates that the current national median salary for paralegals is $48,810. However, the lower cost of living in Oklahoma means that the purchasing power of an Oklahoma paralegal’s salary is equivalent to the salary other paralegals earn. In addition, it is possible for experienced paralegals, or those who have specialized in high-demand fields to earn far more, with the BLS indicating that the top 10 percent of paralegals earn over $79,000.
For these reasons, becoming an Oklahoma paralegal can be an excellent choice for anyone who is seeking a field that offers excellent compensation while also providing an intellectually challenging environment. Whether it is working in a small law firm or as part of a major corporation’s legal department, a qualified Oklahoma paralegal can enjoy a rewarding career with numerous opportunities for advancement.