Paralegal Education in New York
Many individuals desire a career that is exciting, dynamic, presents new challenges and the opportunity to grow as a person. Paralegals, or legal assistants, get all that and more. While once considered a stepping stone toward becoming an attorney, it is now very much its own field and some attorneys step out of the courtroom to become paralegals instead. With over 22,000 paralegals employed in New York state, the concentration of which is in the New York City/New Jersey metropolitan area, New York is second only to California in the sheer number of paralegals supplementing its workforce.
|In USD as of Feb 28, 2013 (source: indeed.com)||35k||70k||105k|
|Paralegal in New York $55,000||
As with every state outside of California, there are no hard and fast rules concerning the educational requirements of paralegals; anyone can work as one as long as they are hired in that capacity. The only kind of enforced law is New York’s Rule 5.3, which states paraprofessionals must be supervised by a practicing attorney in good standing with the state and the American Bar Association. These legal assistants cannot represent themselves as attorneys, charge fees as an attorney does, nor give out legal advice. The attorney who acts as direct supervisor is ultimately responsible for the paralegal’s professional conduct and for instruction regarding ethics and confidentiality. This is also a standard ruling.
While nothing but Rule 5.3 is concrete, New York has a local association called Empire State Alliance of Paralegal Associations, or ESAPA, pressing for some educational respects when firms and businesses seek to hire paraprofessionals. They also encourage the adoption of such criteria by the paralegal themselves, not just the attorneys. The ESAPA calls for certification and degrees in the field with a minimum Associate’s degree with a concentration in Paralegal Studies, a Bachelor’s degree in the same, or a Post-Baccalaureate certificate.
A Certified Paralegal versus Collegiate Certification
The difference between a Certified Paralegal and a certificated paralegal is distinct and important, if not a bit confusing at first glance. Certificated paralegals are those who have successfully completed a two or four year program from a college or university, or who -having previously gained a Bachelor’s degree in any discipline- return to school for a course in criminal law, paralegal studies or other equivalent, and complete a program that usually lasts a year. This gains certification. To become a Certified Paralegal, the hopeful must pass one of four possible exams supplied by one of three national associations:
- PACE and PCC, both sponsored by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- CLA/CP sponsored by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- PP sponsored by the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS)
Having passed one of these, the paralegal can officially be considered a Certified Paralegal. The title instantly informs others, both fellow paraprofessionals and potential employers, that the Certified is competent, knowledgeable and experienced in the paralegal field; possessing such a Certificate is highly desirable. There are a number of qualifications required for each possible test, so check the requirements chart. Cost per exam also varies.
ABA Approved Schools
Another desirable claim on the resume is an ABA, or American Bar Association, approved school or program. This differs from an accredited school in that accreditation is granted by either a regional, national or private authority or the Department of Education. This means the school itself and its teaching criteria meets certain levels of quality and is generalized. The ABA grants approval to certain school programs that meet its stringent demands on legal courses and education. The two can occur together, or singly, or not at all. For the best-looking resume, an aspiring paralegal should try to obtain ABA approval of an accredited school. When in doubt, reach for what looks best in your portfolio or will entice an employer more. The better your educational standing, the greater your edge over the competition.
New York has an impressive collection of ABA approved schools, about 20 of them:
- Berkeley College of New York City offers an Associate’s degree (AS) in paralegal studies. Generally this will take 2 years to complete, full time.
- Genesee Community College offers a 2 year Associate in Applied Science degree in paralegal studies with elective internships.
- Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua extends both an Associate in Applied Science degree and a certificate, which takes 68 semester hours to complete. Internships are elective.
- Bronx Community College also offers an AS in paralegal studies.
The following schools also have ABA approval:
- LaGuardia Community College/CUNY, Long Island City
- LIU Post, Brookville
- Hilbert College, Hamburg
- Marist College, Poughkeepsie
- Hofstra University, Hempstead
- Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry
- Monroe Community College, Rochester
- New York City College of Technology/CUNY, Brooklyn
- Queens College/CUNY, Flushing
- Nassau Community College, Garden City
- New York University, New York
- St. John’s University, Jamaica
- Schenectady County Community College, Schenectady
- Suffolk County Community College, Selden
- SUNY Rockland Community College, Suffern
- Westchester Community College, Valhalla
Firms of Interest
Large law firms are excellent places for an entry-level paralegal to find employment. Some of the largest hiring firms in New York are:
Cravath Swaine & Moore
825 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10019-7475
T: (212) 474-1000
F: (212) 474-3700
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom
4 Times Square
New York, New York 10036
Sullivan & Cromwell
125 Broad Street
New York, New York 10004-2498
Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison
1285 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10019-6064
Resources for Paralegals
It’s recommended that a paraprofessional join at least one association, either national or local. It displays a certain professional pride and many claim the seminars, workshops and other offerings are a boon to their careers and abilities inside the field. Aside from the national associations and ESAPA listed above, they are:
- NFPA affiliated New York City Paralegal Association, Inc. (NYCPA)
- NFPA affiliated Western New York Paralegals Association (WNYPA)
- NFPA affiliated Capital District Paralegal Association, Inc (CDPA)
- NFPA affiliated Paralegal Association of Rochester (PAR)