Becoming a Paralegal in Missouri - MO

paralegal missouri

Home to about 4 lawyers per 1,000 people, according to the American Bar Association, Missouri enjoys a strong legal services industry that ranks the state tenth in the nation for its concentration of lawyers.

From Emerson Electric in St. Louis to H&R Block in Kansas City to O’Reilly Automotive in Springfield, Missouri is where you’ll find opportunities to flex your paralegal skills in corporate law. It’s also home to big names in regional law like Thompson Coburn LLP, Bryan Cave LLP, and Armstrong Teasdale LLP, which provides opportunities to specialize in areas like criminal law, bankruptcy law, estate law, and much, much more.

But before you can begin making a difference in the legal services field as a trusted and valued paralegal, you’ll need to learn how to become a paralegal in Missouri, which includes earning the education and credentials that today’s lawyers demand.

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.

Paralegal Education

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.

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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

  • Number of paralegals employed: 6,860
  • 2020 average annual salary: $48,260
  • Number of MO lawyers: 24,369 as of 2020

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:

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.

Paralegal Associations

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.

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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.

MPA offers four levels of membership:

  • Voting – Open to those employed as paralegals who meet one of the following:
    • Bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies
    • Bachelor’s degree in any field plus a paralegal certificate from an approved school
    • Associate’s degree in paralegal studies plus one year of paralegal experience
    • Associate’s degree in any field, a paralegal certificate from an approved school, and one year of paralegal experience
    • Three years of consecutive paralegal experience
  • Associate – Open to those who meet the requirements for Active membership except for being employed as a paralegal
  • Affiliate – Open to any person who supports the MPA
  • Sustaining – Open to any entity that supports the MPA, with different marketing options available

NALS of Missouri – An affiliate of NALS this state association and its local chapters encourage NALS certification and offer these different 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

The local chapters of NALS of Missouri are:

  • Kansas City Legal Secretary Association (KCLSA)
  • Springfield Area Legal Support Professionals (SALSP)
  • NALS of Greater Saint Louis

Saint Louis Paralegal Association (STLPA) – An affiliate of the National Association for Legal Assistants (NALA), the STLPA promotes NALA certifications and offers these levels of membership:

  • Voting – Open to employed paralegals who have completed a formal paralegal program or who have been employed as paralegals for at least two years
  • Associate – Open to any of the following:
    • Those currently employed as paralegals
    • Those who have been employed as a paralegal in the past
    • Those who have completed a formal paralegal training program
  • Student – Open to those currently enrolled in a formal paralegal training program
  • Sustaining – Open to business partners that select to sponsor the STLPA

Kansas City Paralegal Association (KCPA) – This association offers four levels of membership:

  • Affiliate – Open to anyone who is not employed as a paralegal or who cannot meet the requirements Voting membership
  • Student – Open to those enrolled in a formal paralegal studies program who are not employed full-time as a paralegal
  • Sustaining – Open to law firms, companies, and institutions that want to support the KCPA
  • Voting – Open to employed paralegals who meet one of the following:
    • Associate’s degree in paralegal studies, or a paralegal certificate
    • Bachelor’s degree in any subject
    • One year of paralegal work experience

Law Firms

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:

  • Shook, Hardy and Bacon
  • Polsinelli Shughart
  • Stinson Morrison Hecker
  • Lathrop and Gage
  • Armstrong Teasdale
  • Husch Blackwell
  • Greensfelder, Hemker and Gale
  • Thompson Coburn
  • Bryan Cave

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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