Nearly 5,000 people are at work as paralegals in Missouri, according to the 2016 employment survey performed by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Urban areas, like the metro-Kansas City and St. Louis regions, account for the highest percentage of employment among paralegals.
In Missouri, paralegals are considered legal “paraprofessionals” according to Rule 5.3. This means that they must work under the supervision of a lawyer who agrees to educate them about matters of confidentially and ethics. Attorneys must also accept responsibility for the professional conduct of any paralegals that they employ.
Although it was suggested in 2003, Missouri does not currently regulate its paralegals in terms of training or educational requirements. However, the Missouri Bar Association’s “Practicing with Paralegals” position paper supports educational requirements for paralegals and encourages its members to hire paralegals with certificates or degrees in paralegal studies.
The Missouri Bar’s position on paralegal education aligns with the standards of paralegal education promoted by both the American Bar Association (ABA) and the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE). Those standards call for paralegal education that includes at least 60 semester hours of coursework in legal core competencies like research, drafting legal documents and analyzing legal materials. They also require that educational institutions be either accredited or ABA/AAfPE approved. Such education is available in several models: certificates, associate degrees, baccalaureate degrees and master’s degrees.
Is There Paralegal Certification in Missouri?
The certificate that qualifies a paralegal to work is different from national certification, though the two are often confused. Certificate programs are educational programs that issue a certificate of completion to their graduates, who are then called certificated paralegals. Some certificate programs can be finished quite quickly, since unlike degrees they do not have many general education requirements. Some certificate programs are available to those with no previous higher education. Others require a baccalaureate degree in any field as a prerequisite.
Missouri Job Statistics
Certified paralegals are paralegals that have passed one of the national exams offered by the professional paralegal associations. National certification is voluntary and is often obtained so that paralegals may demonstrate their competence in their field. Currently, there are four exams offered:
- The CLA/CP offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- The PACE offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The PCC also offered by National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The PP offered by the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS)
In order to take one of these exams, paralegals must meet eligibility requirements including education and work experience. These requirements differ between the three national paralegal organizations. A comparison can be found here.
Missouri offers a statewide paralegal association as well as two regional paralegals associations. All three organizations endeavor to promote the development of the paralegal profession through high ethical and professional standards, networking within the legal field, and sponsoring educational opportunities for their members.
The Missouri Paralegal Association (MPA) is affiliated with the NFPA and works to address issues affecting paralegals at the state and federal level. This includes representing the interests of paralegals in conversations about regulation and other matters, providing paralegals with opportunities to network and exchange information, and developing continuing legal education (CLE) for paralegals.
The Kansas City Paralegal Association supports its members through networking, recognition, events and community building. Educational opportunities are also a major focus for the KCPA, which offers CLE to its members.
The St. Louis Paralegal Association (SPA) offers many resources to students and professional paralegals. For students, there are scholarships, a mentoring program and networking opportunities. Professional paralegals can find support for professional development and continuing legal education, social and networking events and a job bank. The SPA also works regionally to raise awareness about the services that paralegals can provide and thus increase utilization of paralegals.
Large law firms can be great entry points for new paralegals. In Missouri, the largest law firms are found in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. Such firms include: