More than five thousand paralegals are working in Arizona, according to the 2016 US 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.
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
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:
- The PACE offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The PCC also offered by 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.
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.
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.