Becoming a Paralegal in District of Columbia - Washington, DC

Home to the highest concentration of paralegal jobs in the nation, Washington D.C. is where both new and established paralegals often find professional opportunities with federal agencies like ICE, NASA, FEMA, and the Department of the Treasury; law firms focusing on immigration law and in federal courts; nonprofit public policy organizations like the Brookings Institution; advocacy organizations like Planned Parenthood Federation of America; and in national law firms like Robert Half.

But first you’ll need to learn how to become a paralegal in Washington D.C., which includes understanding the education requirements demanded by top employers

The District of Columbia’s Rule 5.3 does not formally define paralegals, but sets forth standards applying to all legal paraprofessionals, including paralegals. Under this rule, lawyer must provide direct supervision to all of the paraprofessionals that they employ, and also assume responsibility for those employees’ professional conduct.

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Because there are no formal requirements for the training of paralegals in the District of Columbia, aspiring paralegals may being their careers by either finding employment that provides on-the-job training or by completing an educational program. However, in a competitive job market, increasing numbers of paralegals are choosing to earn certificates, degrees or national certification in order to stand apart from other job candidates.

Is There Paralegal Certification in Washington, D.C.?

Sometimes employers use the terms “certified” and “certificated” paralegals interchangeably. However, these terms describe two different categories of paralegals. It is important to understand the difference and to clarify with employers which level of training they desire in their future employee.

Washington, DC Job Stats

  • Number of paralegals employed: 5,870
  • 2020 average annual salary: $83,330
  • DC has nine times more lawyers per capita than New York City – about 80,000 total in the DC region

Certificated paralegals have earned an educational certificate by completing coursework in paralegal studies. Post-baccalaureate certificate programs have been developed for people who already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject and wish to supplement that with focused coursework in paralegal studies.  These students do not earn a second degree, and instead receive a certificate of completion for this additional coursework. Stand-alone certificate programs do not require a degree as a prerequisite. Graduates from those programs will earn a certificate in paralegal studies but not a degree. The American Bar Association (ABA) recognizes some but not all certificate programs. Certificate programs may also be offered by accredited and non-accredited institutions.

Certified paralegals are experienced paralegals who have demonstrated their mastery of the profession by passing one of the national exams offered by the three national paralegal associations. Certification is voluntary and requires that the paralegals continue to grow and develop their profession by earning continuing legal education credits and recertifying on a regular basis. There are four exams from which to choose:

Requirements for the national exams differ between the three national paralegal organizations. A comparison can be found here.

Paralegal Association

The National Capitol Area Paralegal Association (NCAPA) provides advocacy, resources and support to paralegals who live or work in Washington, D.C., southern Maryland and northern Virginia. NCAPA is affiliated with both the NFPA and a network of paralegals in Virginia, the Virginia Alliance of Paralegal Associations (VAPA).

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Since 1974, NCAPA has worked to promote the development of the paralegal profession, including representing paralegals in the national and local conversations about regulating the profession. Simultaneously, the NCAPA has worked to raise the professionalism of paralegals by sponsoring continuing legal education opportunities, “hot topic” discussions and by encouraging its members to become certified paralegals through the NFPA’s PACE/RP exam. Its membership includes students, practicing paralegals, and others from the legal community.

The NCAPA offers five categories of membership:

  • Voting Member – Open to those working as paralegals who meet either of these conditions:
    • Completed a paralegal certificate or degree from an accredited school or program
    • Have been employed as a paralegal for at least one year
  • Student Member – Open to any paralegal or law-related student enrolled full or part-time
  • Associate Member – Open to any currently employed paralegal who is not eligible to be a Voting Member, and part-time paralegal managers and administrators
  • Contributing Member – Open to anyone employed in the legal field who supports the paralegal profession
  • Institutional Member – Open to educational and legal institutions that support paralegals

Law Firms

The District of Columbia is home to many large, multi-national law firms that employ paralegals.  Washington, D.C.’s largest law firms include:

  • Jones Day
  • Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld
  • Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr
  • Wiley Rein
  • Holland and Knight
  • Arnold and Porter
  • Howrey
  • Steptoe and Johnson LLP
  • Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett and Dunner
  • Williams and Connolly
  • Arent Fox
  • Patton Boggs
  • Hogan Lovells
  • Covington and Burling
  • Crowell and Moring
  • Dickstein Shapiro
  • Venable
  • Zuckerman Spaeder LLP

Important Contacts for Paralegals

May 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics salary, growth, and job market trends for paralegals and legal assistants. Figures represent state data, not school specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed December 2021.

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