Becoming a Paralegal in Massachusetts - MA

paralegal massachusettsThe 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey shows that nearly 7,000 paralegals are working in Massachusetts. In fact, the Boston-Quincy-Cambridge metropolitan area has the eighth highest employment level of paralegals in the country.

As in other states, Massachusetts’ Rule 5.3 defines paralegals as “paraprofessionals” who may be employed by attorneys to assist with substantive legal work. However, the employing attorneys are required to supervise paralegals, instruct them in matters of confidentiality and ethics, and assume responsibility for their paraprofessionals’ work conduct.

In Massachusetts, the education and training requirements for paralegals are not regulated by the state.  Thus, aspiring paralegals may seek on-the-job training or educational programs in order to enter their desired field.

Is There Paralegal Certification in Massachusetts?

Educational programs for paralegals include certificate programs, in which the graduate receives a certificate of completion, and degree-conferring programs, in which the graduate earns an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree in paralegal studies. The American Bar Association (ABA) offers an approval status to some programs and some programs are offered by accredited educational institutions. ABA-approval and accreditation can be important considerations for future employment eligibility and for meeting the requirements to take the voluntary national certification exams.

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Certificate programs offer focused coursework in paralegal studies, typically without general education requirements. Paralegals who graduate from such programs earn a certificate of completion, becoming certificated paralegals. Some certificate programs are open to students who have no previous higher education. Other programs require a baccalaureate degree as a prerequisite, offering their graduates a specialization in paralegal studies on top of their degree, which may be in any subject.

Massachusetts Job Statistics

  • 2011 mean income for paralegals in Massachusetts: $49,720
  • 2009, paralegals reported as in-demand profession with a reported increase in hiring over baseline
  • Number of paralegals employed in Massachusetts: 6,770

Degree-conferring programs offer both general education and a focus in paralegal studies. In a competitive job market, increasing numbers of employers are looking to hire entry-level paralegals with degrees. Degrees can also help paralegals meet the eligibility requirements for the voluntary national certification exams.

National Paralegal Certification

Even though Massachusetts has not standardized training or education requirements for paralegals, some paralegals choose to become nationally certified paralegals. National certification is a way for paralegals to demonstrate their proficiency in their field and to distinguish themselves from their peers. Qualifications to sit for the national certification exams include education, work experience or a combination of the two.  Currently the three professional organizations offer four national exams from which to select:

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

Paralegal Associations

Massachusetts offers both statewide and regional professional paralegal associations.

At the state level, the Massachusetts Paralegal Association (MPA) works to develop and improve the paralegal profession. Since 1975, the MPA has offered, support, networking and professional development to its members.

The MPA offers four levels of membership:

  • Voting – Open to employed paralegals
  • Associate – Open to those who have previously been employed as paralegals or who have completed a paralegal program
  • Student – Open to anyone enrolled in a paralegal program or serving in a paralegal internship
  • Sustaining – Open to entities that are concerned with the betterment of the paralegal profession
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Paralegals that live or work in central Massachusetts may join the Central Massachusetts Paralegal Association (CMPA), which was formed in 1988. The goals of the CMPA include aiding the exchange of ideas between paralegals, building working relationships with others in the legal field, developing and expanding the profession of the paralegal, and supporting educational growth and professional development for CMPA members. The CMPA is an affiliate of the NFPA.

The CMPA offers four levels of membership:

  • Affiliate – Open to anyone who has been employed as a paralegal, or anyone who completed a paralegal studies course, but who is not employed currently as a paralegal or has been employed as a paralegal for less than five years
  • Student – Open to anyone who is enrolled in a paralegal studies program
  • Sustaining – Any person or entity interested in supporting the paralegal profession through the CMPA
  • Voting – Open to anyone employed as a paralegal who has one of the following qualifications:
    • Associate’s degree from a paralegal studies program with at least 60 semester credits that includes a minimum of 24 in paralegal specialty studies
    • Associate’s degree in any subject that includes a minimum of 24 semester credits in paralegal specialty studies
    • Bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies that includes a minimum of 24 semester credits in paralegal specialty studies
    • Bachelor’s degree in any subject plus a minimum of 24 semester credits in paralegal specialty studies

The Western Massachusetts Paralegal Association (WMPA) offers professional development, education, and networking opportunities to paralegals that live or work in Western Massachusetts. It was founded in 1988 and is affiliated with the NFPA. A main goal of the WMPA works to elevate the paralegal profession by assisting paralegals in obtaining information, knowledge and training, and in developing a demand for the increased utilization of paralegals in the legal community.

The WMPA offers four levels of membership:

  • Voting Membership – Open to anyone employed as a paralegal
  • Associate Membership – Open to anyone previously employed as a paralegal or who has graduated from a paralegal program
  • Student Membership – Open to anyone enrolled in a paralegal program or serving in a paralegal internship, who is not employed as a paralegal
  • Sustaining Membership – Open to individuals and entities concerned with the betterment of the paralegal profession

Law Firms

The top employer of paralegals in Massachusetts is private law firms, and the densest concentration of paralegals is located in the metro-Boston area. Large law firms that employ paralegals in Boston include:

  • Fish and Richardson
  • Foley Hoag
  • Brown Rudnick
  • Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo
  • Bingham McCutchen
  • Goodwin Procter
  • Edwards Angell Palmer and Dodge
  • Ropes and Gray
  • Goulston and Storrs

 

Important Contacts for Paralegals

 

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