Becoming a Paralegal in Arizona - AZ

paralegal arizonaNearly five thousand paralegals are working in Arizona, according to the 2010 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, with the metro-Phoenix area supporting the tenth largest population of paralegals in the nation.

In part, this may be due to a 15 year window in which non-lawyers were allowed to prepare legal documents for people who chose to represent themselves in court. This gave rise to the career of the “independent paralegal” in Arizona.  In 2003, a court ruling formalized this profession by creating the “legal document preparer.” Arizona was the first state in the nation to allow paralegals to work without the supervision of a lawyer in the preparation of legal documents, though they are limited to giving legal information and not legal advice.

While there are requirements for paralegals who choose also to become legal document preparers, Arizona does not require a standard level of education or national certification in order for someone to legally work as a paralegal. Thus, aspiring paralegals may choose to enter the profession through on-the-job training, education or education plus national certification.

Arizona Paralegal Education

As the profession of the paralegal has become more widely accepted, it has become necessary for job candidates to distinguish themselves. One way to rise above the competition is to complete coursework in paralegal studies.

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Aspiring paralegals may choose to earn an A.A. or B.A. in paralegal studies or to become a certificated paralegal. Once they have completed certification or with sufficient work experience, they may choose to become a certified paralegal.

Arizona Job Statistics

  • 2011 average income for paralegals in Arizona: $48,940
  • 2011, number of paralegals employed in Arizona: 5,040
  • 2007, number of paralegals who completed CLA examination: 992
  • Legal Document Preparer Program effective July of 2003

Many people interchange “certificated” and “certified.” It is important to understand the difference between the two and to clarify with a potential employer which of the two types of paralegal they are hoping to hire.

Is There Paralegal Certification in Arizona?

Certificated paralegals have completed educational coursework in paralegal studies and thereby earned a certificate. Some certificate programs may require that the applicant has earned a degree in another subject and offer the certificate as a supplement to previous education. For example, if someone has earned a bachelor’s degree in another subject, they may complete a certificate program which offers coursework solely relating to the paralegal profession and without the normal general education requirements. Other programs may offer a stand-alone certificate. Since there is such variation in the programs, it is important to research which ones are approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) and which ones are accredited programs.

National certification is offered by the national paralegal associations. Its purpose is to increase the professionalism of paralegals by certifying that they have mastered the national requirement of legal information and are competent in their field.

Certified paralegals are those who have passed such an exam and have been issued certification by a national paralegal association.

Currently there are four national exams from which to select:

An informational chart comparing national certification exams, eligibility for testing, fees, and recertification is available here.

Professional Paralegal Associations

Paralegals can choose from two professional associations in Arizona.

The Arizona Paralegal Association (APA), which is affiliated with NALA, was founded in 1977 and has grown to include over 400 members. One of its goals is to further the paralegal professional, which it does by supporting professional development, encouraging high standards and ethics, advocating for the profession with local and state bar associations, and serving as a clearinghouse for information about legal assistants. The APA works to keep its members up-to-date by offering “learn at lunch” seminars, annual Legal Seminars and many online resources such as updates to federal rules.

Tucson Paralegal Association (TPA) – An affiliate of NALA, the TPA offers four types of membership:

  • Active Membership – Eligibility requires meeting one of the following:
    • Graduate from an ABA-approved paralegal studies program
    • Graduate from an institutionally accredited paralegal studies program that is at least 60 semester credits
    • Graduate from a paralegal studies program plus six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Graduate from a bachelor’s degree program in any subject, plus six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Have at least three years of law-related experience that includes six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Have at least two years of in-house training as a paralegal under the supervision of an attorney
    • Passage of NALA’s Certified Paralegal (CP)/Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) exam
  • Associate Membership – Eligibility requires meeting on of the following:
    • Have seven years of law related experience under the supervision of a member of the bar association
    • Have the Professional Legal Secretary (PLS)/Certified Legal Professional (CLP) credential sponsored by the paralegal association NALS
  • Student Membership – Open to any student enrolled in good standing at any school who is pursuing legal studies
  • Affiliated Memberships:
  • Society – Open to any local or state organization in harmony with the Arizona Paralegal Association or NALA
  • Individual – Open to:
    • Any currently employed paralegal whose field of expertise required specialized training in an ancillary area
    • Any member of the Bar Association who endorses the concept of paralegals/legal assistants
    • Any member of the educational field who endorses the concept of paralegals/legal assistants
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Maricopa County Association of Paralegals (MCAP) (formerly Legal Assistants of Metropolitan Phoenix (LAMP)) – Affiliated with the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the MCAP offers three levels of membership:

  • Active
  • Associate
  • Student

NALS of Tucson and Southern Arizona – A NALS affiliate, membership is offered on these levels:

  • Individual – Open to those engaged in work of a legal nature
  • Associate – Open to those engaged in work of a legal nature such as educators, judges, and attorneys
  • Students – Open to students taking at least nine semester credits from a legal-related program offered by an accredited school
  • Retired – Open to those who have been a NALS-affiliated member for at least five years prior to retirement
  • Life – Open to qualified individual members

International – Open to those engaged in work of a legal nature who reside outside the US

NALS of Phoenix – A NALS affiliate, this organization offers these levels of membership:

  • Individual – Open to those engaged in work of a legal nature
  • Associate – Open to those engaged in work of a legal nature such as educators, judges, and attorneys
  • Students – Open to students taking at least nine semester credits from a legal-related program offered by an accredited school
  • Retired – Open to those who have been a NALS-affiliated member for at least five years prior to retirement
  • Life – Open to qualified individual members
  • International – Open to those engaged in work of a legal nature who reside outside the US

 

The Arizona Association of Independent Paralegals (AZAIP) is comprised mainly of paralegals who are also legal document preparers. Their mission is focused outwardly on providing affordable legal services to Arizona residents and protecting access to those rights including advocating for the continued employment of legal document preparers. They help interested people become court document preparers by offering exam preparation, continuing education, seminars and classes.

Largest Law Firms

Large law firms are often large employers of paralegals. Most of these firms are located in Arizona’s larger cities, like Phoenix/Scottsdale and Tucson.

  • Snell & Wilmer LLP
  • Lewis and Roca LLP
  • Fennemore Craig, P.C.
  • The Kelly Law Firm, L.L.C.
  • Quarles & Brady
  • Greenberg Traurig, P.A.
  • Bryan Cave
  • Steptoe & Johnson
  • Perkins Coie

 

Important Contacts for Paralegals

 

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