The 2016 US Bureau of Labor Statistics employment survey found that southwestern rural Montana employs paralegals at the second highest concentration of any rural area in the nation. Although there are only about 900 paralegals working in Montana, they account for one-quarter of all jobs in the legal profession.
Montana law as stated in HB 301 requires that paralegals meet certain training or educational standards before they can call themselves “paralegals.” Associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, national certification, law degrees and extensive work experience may all qualify someone to legally call themselves a paralegal. Under HB 301, paralegals may not work unless they are under an attorney’s supervision, although they are permitted to perform substantive legal work that would otherwise be done by an attorney.
Because of Montana’s state requirements, many aspiring paralegals choose to pursue education as a means of entering the profession. The law does not recognize non-baccalaureate certificate programs, so aspiring paralegals may choose from associate degrees or bachelor degrees in paralegal studies, master’s degrees in paralegal studies, post-baccalaureate paralegal certificates, or law degrees.
Post-baccalaureate certificate programs are not the same as national certification, though the two are frequently confused. In order to enter a post-baccalaureate certificate program, applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree in any subject. The certificate program offers specialized coursework in paralegal studies designed to complement a general undergraduate education. A graduate from such a program is a certificated paralegal.
Montana Job Statistics
The state of Montana allows paralegals who earn national certification to legally call themselves “paralegals.” National certification is open to paralegals that meet educational or work experience requirements and also pass a national certification exam. Once they successfully complete the exam, they are called certified paralegals. Currently the three professional organizations offer four national exams from which to select:
- The PACE offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The PCC also offered by National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The CLA/CP offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- The PP offered by the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS)
Requirements for the national exams differ between the three national paralegal organizations. A comparison can be found here.
The Montana Association of Legal Assistants*Paralegals (MALA) was formed in 1992 as an affiliate of NALA. Since its inception, MALA has worked to expand the role of the professional paralegal in Montana by educating both the legal community and the general public.
MALA also provides educational and professional development opportunities to its members and sets high standards for ethical and professional behavior.
Membership in MALA allows paralegals to network, exchange ideas and information and access resources such as a job bank, continuing legal education, assistance with specialization or in preparing to take national certification exams, and a mentoring program. Membership is open to students, legal assistants, paralegals, educators and anyone else interested in supporting the paralegal profession.