Becoming a Paralegal in Michigan - MI

paralegal michiganAccording to the 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, nearly 5,000 people in Michigan work as paralegals. The majority of paralegals in Michigan find employment in private law firms, corporations, and state or federal government offices.

Michigan’s Rule 5.3 defines paralegals as legal “paraprofessionals” who may be employed under the supervision of an attorney. Supervising attorneys must instruct their paraprofessionals in standards of ethics and confidentiality, and must be willing to accept responsibility for their employees’ professional conduct.

Michigan does not regulate its paralegals by requiring that they meet certain standards of training or education. As such, aspiring paralegals may choose education or on-the-job training as entry points into their chosen career.

Is There Paralegal Certification in Michigan?

Aspiring paralegals in Michigan may acquire education through certificate programs or degree-conferring programs. Education can help prepare the entry-level paralegals for employment, help paralegals qualify for the voluntary national certification exams, and help distinguish entry-level paralegals in a competitive job market.

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Certificate programs offer students focused coursework in paralegal studies without many general education classes. Graduates from certificate programs are called certificated paralegals. Certificate programs may take different forms. Some programs target aspiring paralegals who already have earned a degree in another subject and who desire specialized coursework in paralegal studies. Other certificate programs do not require applicants to have previously earned a degree. Graduates from certificate programs earn certificates of completion.

Michigan Job Statistics

  • 2011 mean income for paralegals in Michigan: $50,800 (US Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • May 2012, Supreme Court declares case materials must be retained for 5 years in criminal defense cases
  • July 2010, ethics opinion RI-349 states lawyers can represent clients relying on communication solely through a non-lawyer assistant

Degrees, such as associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in paralegal studies, are also available to aspiring paralegals. Degrees combine general education classes with specialized work in paralegal studies.

The American Bar Association (ABA) offers a recommended list of programs. ABA approval and accreditation status of the educational institution can be important to employers as well as the national paralegal associations which offer certification exams.

National Certification

In Michigan, it is not required that paralegals become nationally certified in order to work legally. However, paralegals may voluntarily sit for the national certification exams in order to become certified paralegals. Such certification demonstrates paralegals’ mastery of their field.

The national certification exams are open to paralegals that possess required amounts of education, work experience or a combination of the two. Requirements for the national exams differ between the three national paralegal organizations. A comparison can be found here.

Currently the three professional organizations offer four national exams from which to select:

Paralegal Associations

Both the State Bar of Michigan and the Grand Rapids Bar Association have active paralegal sections that offer continuing legal education, job listings, and regular gatherings.

The State Bar of Michigan offers section membership for employed paralegals who meet one of the following:

  • Bachelor’s degree in any field and graduate from an ABA-approved paralegal program
  • Bachelor’s degree in any field plus two years of in-house paralegal training
  • Associate’s degree in the paralegal studies field plus two years of in-house paralegal training
  • Associate’s degree in any field, graduate of an ABA-approved paralegal program, plus two years of in-house paralegal training
  • Four years of in-house paralegal training
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NALS of Michigan – This state-level NALS affiliate organization has several local chapter members throughout the state that all have 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

The NALS local chapters throughout the state are:

  • NALS of Detroit
  • NALS Grand Traverse Area Legal Professionals
  • NALS of Greater Kalamazoo
  • NALS of Jackson County
  • NALS of Lansing
  • NALS of West Michigan

Paralegals in Cass and Berrien Counties may join the Michiana Paralegal Association (MPA), which includes over 50 members from northern Indiana and southwestern Michigan. The MPA offers educational and professional development opportunities, networking, an exchange of information on both local and national topics, advocacy for the profession, and pro bono service to the larger community.

Law Firms

Major cities are often home to many large law firms that employ paralegals. In Detroit these law firms include:

  • Dickinson Wright
  • Clark Hill
  • Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone
  • Dykema Gossett
  • Butzel Long
  • Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn

Important Contacts for Paralegals

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