Paralegal Education in Virginia
Virginia State defines paralegal as ” The American Bar Association recognizes and has formulated guidelines for the utilization of paralegals. Although there are several formal definitions of a paralegal in general, a paralegal is a specially trained individual who performs substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts. Paralegals either work under the supervision of an attorney, who assumes professional responsibility for the final work product, or work in areas where lay individuals are explicitly authorized by statute or regulation to assume certain law related responsibilities.”
As in most states, a person can enter the paralegal field as easily as accepting a job position; there are no set standards for education or experience before one can become a paralegal, but employers are often more picky and prefer at least a Post-Baccalaureate certification or an Associates degree in paralegal studies or equivalent. To help answer the employer concern about what constitutes a good hire since there are no regulations, the local Virginia Alliance of Paralegal Associations created guidelines to help lead employers in the right direction. Most will take their cues from these suggestions, which are: Achieving national certification from a program recognized by Virginia Alliance of Paralegal Associations (VAPA); Graduation from a program that is approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) or one offering equal rigor; Completion of a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in any discipline with a minimum of 24-semester hours comprised of paralegal studies courses OR one year of paralegal work experience, attested to by the supervising attorney; Completion of an Associate degree (AS), which includes a minimum of 60-semester credit hours, with a minimum of 24 of those being in paralegal coursework; and at least five years of work experience as a paralegal under the direct supervision of an attorney attested to by the supervising attorney.
|In USD as of Mar 12, 2013 (source: indeed.com)
|Paralegal in Virginia $47,000
Certified versus Certification
While these two terms are often used interchangeably, they should be understood as the distinctly different words they are. To become certificated means the hopeful paralegal has passed her program and earned her degree at the end. Certified comes from passing one of four national exams and fulfilling some prerequisites to sitting for that exam. There are three national associations who offer then tests:
NALA, or the National Association of Legal Assistants ; NFPA, or the National Federation of Paralegal Associations; and NALS, or the Association for Legal Professionals. The titles of Certified Paralegal or Certified Legal Assistant are a display a paraprofessional’s competence, skill and seriousness, and as such, are highly respected. Employers look quite favorably on those who are Certified and some will even reimburse for test costs. You will notice differences between what each exam expects of you as it pertains to education, background, and experience, as such, it is prudent to understand what the chart outlines as its prerequisites.
Institutes of Learning
As you research schools to attend you’ll run across ABA approved and accredited in the descriptions. To ease confusion, ABA approval is towards a program or course. The American Bar Association, which is an association primarily for and of attorneys, also know what it takes to make a legal assistant that will become indispensable quickly. Pooling knowledge, the ABA rewards those courses that uphold their strict standards to produce the best prepared paralegals fresh out of school. Accreditation is when a private, national or regional authority rewards a school with special accolades concerning their course presentation and educational delivery. It is best to find a school with both accreditation and ABA approval; this ensures you absolutely have every box checked to make your employers and yourself happy. Virginia has four schools that are ABA approved:
J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond is a public, 2-year school that offers an AAS (Associates of Applied Sciences) degree in paralegal studies. The course requires 67 semester hours and a mandatory internship for completion.
Marymount University in Arlington is a public, four-year school offering a Bachelor degree, Masters degree, and a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Paralegal Studies.
National College (Roanoke Valley Campus) is a private two-year college extending an AAS in Paralegal Studies where internships are elective, though highly recommended.
Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria is a pubic, two-year school offering an AAS in Paralegal Studies or Paralegal Assisting where internships are elective but highly recommended. If a hopeful takes this program with only a High School diploma, then it will take 4 semesters to complete; otherwise the collage graduate will spend 2 semesters completing the program.
Quite a few paralegal or paraprofessional associations exist these days, all established for the purpose of increasing paralegal visibility and recognition, promoting public awareness of paralegal usefulness, building a sense of community, and ultimately to expand the understanding of this often misunderstood profession. Associations lend peer support, assist in job banks and networking, and often continue education with seminars and workshops taught by professionals in the field. Being part of one underlines the legal assistant’s seriousness about her career, looks good to employers, and the yearly fees will often be reimbursed by the employer.
- The Richmond Paralegal Association (RPA)
- Virginia Alliance of Paralegal Associations (VAPA)
- National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- Association for Legal Professionals (NALS)
Additional Important Links
- Virginia Alliance of Paralegal Associations (VAPA)
- Virginia Peninsula Paralegal Association (VaPPA), NALA
- Virginia Association of Legal Secretaries (VALS), NALS
- Virginia State Bar
- Virginia’s Judicial System
- National Capital Area Paralegal Association (NCAPA), NFPA affiliated Richmond Paralegal Association (RPA), NALA affiliated
- Paralegal Association of Northern Virginia (PANV), NFPA affiliated
- Tidewater Paralegal Association (TPA), NALA affiliated Fairfax Bar Association Paralegal Division
- Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia
- Educational Standards for Paralegals in Virginia