Paralegal Education in Oklahoma
Oklahoma was home to more than 2,000 paralegals in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics with the largest concentration in urban areas. A paralegal is a professional with substantive knowledge of legal procedure and skill who is not a licensed attorney and does not claim to be one. A paralegal, or legal assistant, cannot claim attorney’s fees, offer legal advice, or represent a client in the court of law. They do interpret and draw up legal documents, interview witnesses, talk to clients, and basically everything else a lawyer does outside the aforementioned taboos. Some attorneys are even stepping out of the courtroom battle zone to become paralegals.
|In USD as of Feb 28, 2013 (source: indeed.com)||25k||50k||75k|
|Paralegal in Oklahoma $43,000||
Educational Requirements in Oklahoma
As no authority is placed over the profession, there are no specified requirements for working as a paralegal, though the state may not recognize a paralegal as such before certain guidelines are filled; this is in an effort to promote formal education and a good base of skill or knowledge in the field. Anyone can work as a paralegal however, the opportunity simply needs to be presented, but it takes more than a job title to be respected as one. Becoming a paralegal can be as basic as hands-on training as you go, but it’s not preferable. More and more employers are seeking a solid foundation of schooling and experience before a job is awarded. To facilitate this and promote the importance of education in the legal field, the OBA -or Oklahoma Bar Association– posted their position on minimum standards for Paralegals/Legal Assistants in 2000 and ask others adhere to them for the sake of professionalism.
Requirements concerning institutes of learning vary state to state; in Oklahoma ABA approval of a school or program is not necessary but accreditation of the school is a must.
The difference sounds small but is rather particular: an accredited school is one that has met or exceeded certain stringent requirements regarding how it is run and the quality of the education it offers in an overall, general sense. Accreditation is granted by a private, regional or national authority such as the Department of Education. An ABA approved school is one that has impressed the very selective American Bar Association in the field of legal studies such as Paralegal Technology, or Criminal Law and is more course-specific.
To bear the title of Certified Paralegal and not simply a certificated paralegal, the legal assistant must sit for and successfully pass one of the four exams sponsored by one of 3 nationally recognized associations. Each of these exams has varied requirements and costs. They are:
- the PP sponsored by the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS)
- the PACE and the PCC, each sponsored by the same organization, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- the CLA/CP sponsored by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
A paralegal must also possesses either a 2-year Associate’s degree, a 4 year Bachelor’s degree, a secondary Bachelor’s degree, a Post-Baccalaureate certification, a Master’s degree or a Juris Doctorate in law to be recognized as a paralegal in Oklahoma. To an extent, 5-7 consecutive years of experience in the field, attested to by the employing attorney, can grandfather a paralegal into the profession as well. There are four ABA approved schools in the state:
East Central University in Ada is a 4-year public school that provides the applicant with a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Legal Studies. It takes roughly 3.5 years to complete the program and internship is required. The undergraduate degree minors in legal studies and the major is ABA approved.
Rose State College in Midwest City is a public 2-year school providing an AAS in the Business Division of a Legal Assistant program. At least 3 semesters are required for graduation and internships are mandatory.
University of Oklahoma Law Center located in Norman is a 4-year public school that offers a post-secondary certificate where internships are elective. The course itself lasts about 2 years and is comprised of Saturday classes so work or studies may continue uninterrupted.
University of Tulsa in Tulsa is a 4 year school that has a Certificate in Paralegal Studies and a Legal Nurse Consultant Program. This is a continuing education program that requires previous degrees.
Associations, whether local or national, are encouraged for a paralegal to join. Membership in such an organization marries intent to practice in a union that is not only beneficial, but also shows employers and fellow paraprofessionals that you are serious about expanding your career. Associations help keep those enrolled abreast of cutting edge legal news, provide a job bank, support, and networking. Many seminars and workshops -held for free- offer personal growth, the promotion of the field and a sense of community. There are three local associations in Oklahoma and all are affiliated with NALA:
- Tulsa Area Paralegal Association (TAPA)
- Oklahoma Paralegal Association (OPA)
- Central Oklahoma Association of Legal Assistants (COALA)