Becoming a Paralegal in Georgia - GA

paralegal georgiaAccording to a 2010 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over six thousand paralegals providing legal services in Georgia. In fact, the metro-Atlanta area boasts the fifth highest employment level for paralegals in the country. Law firms employ the majority of paralegals in the state.

Under Georgia’s Rule 5.3, paralegals are considered legal “paraprofessionals” who may be employed as non-lawyer assistants. This rule requires lawyers to supervise their assistants and to accept responsibility for the professional conduct of these assistants. Rule 5.3 does not define educational or training requirements for paralegals. This allows aspiring paralegals to pursue employment through educational coursework, such as a certificate program, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree, or through on-the-job training.

In an effort to increase the standing of the paralegal profession within the legal community of Georgia, the Georgia Association of Paralegals has set voluntary minimum standards for entry-level paralegals. Their recommendation is that an entry-level paralegal has earned one of the following:

  • Paralegal Certificate from an American Bar Association (ABA) approved program
  • A.A. in Paralegal Studies
  • B.A. in Paralegal or Legal Studies
  • B.A. in any subject plus a Paralegal Certificate from an ABA approved program or an accredited institution
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Is There Paralegal Certification in Georgia?

Certificated paralegals have completed a certificate program in paralegal studies. There are two types of certificate programs: those that offer certificates to those with no previous education and those that require that applicants have previously earned a bachelor’s degree in any subject.

Georgia Job Statistics

  • 2011 average income for paralegals in Georgia: $49,587
  • Annual job openings for paralegals in Georgia: 320
  • June 2011, Governor Deal proclaims “paralegal week” for the first time in Georgia’s history
  • September 2010, Georgia Association of Paralegals recommends minimum 12 hours continuing legal education every 2 years

Not all certificate programs are recognized by the American Bar Association (ABA) and not all of these programs are accredited. The Georgia Paralegal Association encourages entry level paralegals to choose programs through accredited schools or those with ABA recognition. Employers may prefer this as well.

National Certification

Experienced paralegals can demonstrate their competence in the field by becoming certified paralegals. A paralegal is eligible for taking such an exam through a combination of education and professional experience.  An informational chart comparing national certification exams, eligibility for testing, fees, and recertification is available here.

National certification exams are offered by one of the three national paralegal associations. Currently there are four national exams from which to select:

 

Professional Paralegal Associations

The Georgia Association of Paralegals (GAP) has worked since 1974 to advocate for the paralegal profession while providing support and education for its members. As there are no state guidelines for paralegals, GAP has worked extensively with the NFPA to create voluntary guidelines to increase the education and professional standing of paralegals in Georgia. These standards encourage minimum educational levels for new paralegals, national certification for experienced paralegals, continuing legal education for all paralegals, and a high code of ethics.

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In addition to this work, GAP offers networking, job board, pro bono community service and social opportunities to its members. While the largest concentration of its members is in the metro-Atlanta area, GAP works to include and represent paralegals from throughout the state. GAP recognizes three types of membership:

  • Regular – Open to currently employed paralegals
  • Associates – Open to those currently seeking employment as paralegals
  • Student – Open to those currently enrolled in a paralegal education program

Atlanta Paralegal Association (APA) – An affiliate of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the APA offers four levels of membership:

  • Active Membership – Open to paralegals and legal assistants
  • Student Membership – Open to those enrolled in a paralegal program and recent graduates
  • Associate Membership – Open to lawyers, educators, and supervisors or paralegals
  • Sustaining Membership – Open to law firms, corporations, individuals, and paralegal program representatives

Southeastern Association of Legal Assistants (SEALA) – Affiliated with the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), SEALA offers four levels of membership:

  • Student Membership – Open to any student in good standing who is enrolled full-time in a paralegal program
  • Associate Membership – Open to those who meet one of the following:
    • Members of a bar association who endorse or are involved in the paralegal profession
    • Members of the educational field who endorse or are involved in the paralegal profession
    • Are involved in the direct supervision of paralegals
    • Law firms, corporations, and paralegal program representatives who endorse the paralegal concept
  • Sustaining Membership – Open to attorneys, educators, paralegal supervisors, individuals, school representatives, or companies that support the paralegal concept
  • Active Membership – Open to anyone who meets one of the following:
    • Graduate of an ABA-approved paralegal program
    • Graduate of an institutionally-approved paralegal program that includes at least 60 semester credits
    • Graduate of a paralegal program plus six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Bachelor’s degree in any field plus six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Three years of law-related experience that includes six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Two years of in-house paralegal training
    • Passed NALA’s CP/CLA exam

NALS of Atlanta – This association is affiliated with NALS, offering these membership 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

Cobb County Legal Professionals Association – Affiliated with NALS, this association has six 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

 

Law Firms

As law firms are top-employers of paralegals, it can be helpful to contact them for employment requirement information and job opportunities. Some of the largest law firms in Georgia include:

  • Kilpatrick Stockton
  • Ford and Harrison
  • Alston and Bird
  • Smith, Gambrell and Russell
  • Fisher and Phillips
  • Troutman Sanders
  • Sutherland Asbill and Brennan
  • McKenna Long and Aldridge
  • King and Spalding

 

Important Contacts for Paralegals

 

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