Becoming a Paralegal in Illinois - IL

paralegal illinois

The major metropolis of Chicago, which boasts the third largest economy in the nation (behind only Los Angeles and NYC), is the primary contributor to Illinois’ strong paralegal profession and is certainly why the number of paralegals in Illinois (13,320 as of 2020) has long surpassed most other states.

Paralegal opportunities here are found through Fortune 500 companies like Boeing in Chicago, Deere in Moline, Sara Lee in Downers Grove, and OfficeMax in Naperville; state agencies like the Illinois’ Attorney General’s Office; and regional law firms with national reputations like Kirkland & Ellis, Mayer Brown, Winston & Strawn, and Sidley Austin.

Whether you’re an aspiring paralegal or an established one with specialized knowledge in estate law, real estate law, immigration law, or intellectual property law, understanding how to become a paralegal in Illinois means ensuring you have the credentials that today’s lawyers demand.

While paralegals in Illinois are not required to be certified or registered, they must follow rules of professional conduct and ethics as set forth by the state. In 1996, the Illinois Supreme Court defined a standard of conduct for paralegals known as the Illinois Code of Paralegal Ethics. This code spells out the expectations for paralegals. In particular they not misrepresent themselves as lawyers or able to offer legal counsel, and they must follow standards of confidentiality, ethics and other proper conduct. Additionally, Rule 5.3 sets forth guidelines for “nonlawyer assistants” requiring that lawyers supervise and accept responsibility for the professional actions of their legal assistants.

Without registration or educational requirements, Illinois paralegals may begin their careers by finding employment that offers on-the-job training or by pursuing education in paralegal studies.

Is There Paralegal Certification in Illinois?

Paralegals may choose from several different types of education programs designed to prepare them for their career in the law field. Certificate programs can be useful for those with no prior education who wish to immerse themselves solely in paralegal studies without general education classes.

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Certificate programs are also offered for aspiring paralegals who hold a degree in another field and want to add an additional focus to their studies. Instead of completing a second bachelor’s degree, they can earn a certificate in paralegal studies. Certificated paralegals are not the same as certified paralegals, who have passed a national certification exam.

Illinois Job Statistics

  • Number of paralegals employed: 13,320
  • 2020 average annual salary: $60,390
  • Total number of lawyers in IL: 62,720 in 2020
  • 9 lawyers per 1,000 people in IL in 2020

For aspiring paralegals who wish to earn a degree, many programs offer associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies, and a few program eve often master’s level work. For any education program, certificate through master’s, it is important to investigate if the paralegal program is approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) and if the educational institution is accredited.

National Certification

Paralegals who wish to distinguish themselves in their field may choose to sit for national certification exams.  To be eligible to take the exams, they must meet education and work experience requirements. Currently the three professional paralegal organizations offer four national exams from which paralegals may select:

A comparison of eligibility, continuing legal education and recertification requirements can be found here.

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Paralegal Associations

Illinois offers two professional paralegal associations: The Illinois Paralegal Association, which is affiliated with the NFPA and the Central Illinois Paralegal Association, which is affiliated with NALA.

The Illinois Paralegal Association (IPA) began in Chicago in the early 1970s and since has grown to include and support members from throughout Illinois. Its main goals include facilitating communication between paralegals and other individuals and organizations within their professional community; providing opportunities for continuing education and professional development and promoting the visibility and growth of the paralegal profession. Additionally, the IPA offers a mentoring program to new paralegals, regular meetings to help paralegals keep informed of developments in the legal field, and access to many online resources.

the IPA sponsors its own paralegal credential and offers these four levels of membership:

  • Regular – Open to anyone who meets one of these requirements:
    • A paralegal employed in Illinois
    • An Illinois resident employed as a paralegal in any of Illinois’ neighboring states
  • Associate – Open to anyone who meets one of the following:
    • Illinois paralegals working part-time in the state
    • Those formerly employed as paralegals
    • Graduates of paralegal programs
  • Student – Open to temporary or permanent Illinois residents enrolled in a formal paralegal studies program, as well as residents of neighboring states attending paralegal programs in Illinois
  • Sustaining – Open to any person or entity that is interested in furthering the purposes of the IPA

The IPA sponsors the voluntary credential Illinois Accredited Paralegal (ILAP). To be eligible paralegals must be IPA Regular Members and meet one of the following conditions:

  • Master’s degree in paralegal studies and one year of paralegal experience
  • Master’s degree in any subject, a paralegal certificate, and one year of paralegal experience
  • Master’s degree in any subject plus three years of paralegal experience
  • Bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies plus one year of paralegal experience
  • Bachelor’s degree in any field, a paralegal certificate, and one year of paralegal experience
  • Bachelor’s degree in any field plus three years of paralegal experience
  • Associate’s degree in paralegal studies plus two years of paralegal experience
  • Associate’s degree in any field, a paralegal certificate, and two years of paralegal experience
  • Associate’s degree in any field plus three years of paralegal experience
  • Paralegal certificate plus four years of paralegal experience
  • Five years of paralegal experience
  • The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)’s Certified Paralegal (CP)/Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) credential, or the NFPA’s Registered Paralegal (RP) credential

The Central Illinois Paralegal Association (CIPA) sponsors monthly meetings throughout central Illinois to offer support, networking and education to their members. CIPA encourages its members to learn and grow, and thereby advance and expand the paralegal profession. CIPA offers an Annual Educational Seminar with continuing legal education units available to paralegals and attorneys.

CIPA offers four levels of membership:

  • Associate – Open to members of the bar association and the educational field who promote the paralegal concept
  • Student – Open to full and part-time students enrolled in a paralegal studies program
  • Sustaining – Open to anyone not directly involved in the paralegal profession but who supports the promotion of the field
  • Active – Open to anyone who meets one of the following:
    • Paralegal studies program graduate – certificate or bachelor’s degree
    • Has at least six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Has passed NALA’s Certified Legal Assistant (CLA)/Certified Paralegal (CP) exam

Law Firms

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the metropolitan area surrounding Chicago employs the greatest number of paralegals. The majority of these paralegals are employed by the large law firms that Chicago is home to, including:

  • Baker & McKenzie
  • Sidley Austin
  • Mayer Brown
  • Kirkland & Ellis
  • McDermott Will & Emery
  • Winston & Strawn
  • Seyfarth Shaw
  • Katten Muchin Rosenman
  • Hinshaw & Culbertson
  • Jenner & Block
  • Dykema Gossett
  • Schiff Hardin
  • Vedder Price
  • Chapman and Cutler
  • Neal Gerber and Eisenberg

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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