Nearly three thousand paralegals provide legal services in Alabama, according to a 2016 report published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Law firms in the Birmingham area employ most paralegals in Alabama. Other top employers include government, business and industry, and insurers.
Alabama’s Rule 5.3 recognizes lawyer employment of paraprofessionals, including paralegals. It requires that lawyers supervise and instruct their employees and that they accept responsibility for the professional actions of their employees. However, it requires no educational nor certification process for paralegals. Thus, aspiring paralegals may pursue employment by completing educational coursework, such as a certificate program, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree, or by finding an employer who provides on-the-job training.
Is There Paralegal Certification in Alabama?
Employers often interchange the words “certificated” and “certified” when specifying their requirements for a paralegal job candidate. It is important that job candidates understand the distinction and that they clarify with the potential employer which level of training the employer truly desires.
Certificated paralegals have completed an educational program that awarded a certificate in paralegal studies. Certificate programs may offer admission to those with no previous education or they may require that applicants have previously earned a bachelor’s degree in another field.
Alabama Job Statistics
There are many certificate-awarding schools, some of which are recognized by the American Bar Association (ABA) and some which are not. These schools may also be accredited or not. As employers may prefer an accredited school with ABA recognition, researching job qualifications in advance of applying to programs is very useful.
Paralegals become certified paralegals upon passing a national exam in their field, administered by one of the national paralegal associations. Paralegals may be employed in their field for several years before they earn certification. Alternately, they may sit for exams soon after graduation from a paralegal school or college program, particularly if they had the opportunity to gain work experience as part of their coursework. Exam requirements vary between the examining organizations.
Currently there are four national exams from which to select:
- The PACE offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The PCC also offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The CLA/CP offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- The PP offered by the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS)
An informational chart comparing national certification exams, eligibility for testing, fees, and recertification is available here.
As the paralegal profession has grown and paralegals have become better utilized in the legal field, standards for entry-level candidates have increased. On-the-job training is still available, but positions are often awarded to job candidates with diplomas or certificates in paralegal studies or internship experience in a law office. Aspiring paralegals may choose to make themselves more competitive in the job market by pursuing a educational certificate program, an associate’s degree in paralegal studies or a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies, particularly if these programs also prepare them for national certification.
Professional Paralegal Associations
Professional associations can offer insight into the regional legal community, educational opportunities, networking, mentoring and support. They offer memberships for both students and practicing paralegals.
The Alabama Association of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPi), a NALA affiliate, was established in 1982. Its goals include supporting new paralegals through a mentoring program, networking, and providing educational opportunities for its members, including the continuing legal education (CLE) units required for national certification.
AAPi has members in all parts of the state, with regional meetings occurring monthly or bimonthly. AAPi also offers an annual Winter Seminar as well as a Summer Seminar and Annual Meeting.
The Alabama Association of Legal Professionals (AALS), an affiliate of NALS, works to increase the professionalism of the paralegal profession by providing education, support, and high standards for its members including national certification. To this end, it offers mock exams and an online study course for the NALS Professional Paralegal (PP) exam.
AALS has chapters throughout the state. Its membership is open to anyone working in the legal community, including judicial assistants, paralegals, word processors, and law librarians.
Top Law Firms
Law firms are top-employers of paralegals, and therefore it can be helpful to contact them for employment requirement information and job opportunities. Law firms in Alabama include: