According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2011 survey, 300 paralegals work in North Dakota, representing one quarter of all legal professionals in the state.
In Rule 5.3, the North Dakota Supreme Court defines as a paralegal as:
A person who assists lawyers in the delivery of legal services, and who through formal education, training, or experience, has knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system and substantive and procedural law which qualifies the person to do work of a legal nature under the direct supervision of a licensed lawyer.
As in other states, paralegals in North Dakota must work under the supervision of an attorney who accepts professional responsibility for their conduct. Paralegals may not perform duties that would be considered unauthorized practice of law. Supervising attorneys must ensure that their paralegals receive education in ethics and confidentiality.
In North Dakota, Rule 5.3 also offers guidelines for paralegal education. These guidelines are:
|North Dakota Statistics|
- Completion of a bachelor’s degree, associate degree, or a post-baccalaureate program in paralegal studies from an American Bar Association (ABA) approved institution or one with similar standards of educational rigor
- Completion of a bachelor’s degree in any field, supplemented by either one year of lawyer-supervised on-the-job training or eighteen semester credit hours of substantive legal coursework
- Becoming a nationally certified legal assistant/paralegal through a professional organization that requires continuing legal education in order to maintain certification status
- Seven years of on-the-job training and paralegal work experience under the supervision of a lawyer
North Dakota Paralegal Certificates and National Certification
Certificated paralegals are not the same as certified paralegals, though the similarity of terms can lead to confusion. Certificate programs are educational programs in paralegal studies that issue certificates of completion to their graduates. These graduates are then considered certificated paralegals. While certificate programs are available to students who do not have bachelor’s degrees, North Dakota’s Rule 5.3 only recognizes post-baccalaureate certificates. The certificate program must meet ABA requirements, such as a minimum of 60 semester hours of coursework, including 18 semester hours of substantive paralegal coursework.
National certification, through which paralegals become certified paralegals, is recognized by North Dakota’s Rule 5.3. Paralegals must meet requirements for education, work experience or a combination of the two, and must also pass one of the examinations offered by the national paralegal associations. Requirements for the national exams differ between the three national paralegal organizations and can be found here.
Currently there are four exams from which to choose:
- The PACE offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The PCCE 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)
Two paralegal professional associations are available to those who work in North Dakota.
The Red River Valley Paralegal Association (RRVPA) includes paralegals working in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota. Twice a year, the RRVPA hosts seminars that offer continuing legal education (CLE) as well as credits needed to maintain a CLA/CP certification. Additionally, the RRVPA holds regular meetings, offers networking opportunities, and builds working relationships with other members of the legal community.
The RRVPA offers four levels of membership:
- Voting Member – Open to paralegals who meet one of the following:
- Graduate of an ABA-approved paralegal program at the bachelor’s, associate’s, or post-bac certificate levels
- Graduate of a paralegal program that has at least 60 semester credits that includes 18 credits of substantive legal courses
- Bachelor’s degree in any field plus either one year of paralegal training experience or 18 semester credits of substantive legal courses
- National paralegal certification from an approved organization
- Seven years of experience working as a paralegal
- Associate Member – Open to employed paralegals or those in a related area of work who don’t meet the requirements for Voting membership
- Student Member – Open to anyone enrolled full-time in a paralegal studies program
- Sustaining Member – Open to any entity interested in supporting the paralegal profession and the RRVPA
The Western Dakota Association of Legal Assistants (WDALA) includes paralegals and students who work or live in the 29 counties of western North Dakota. The WDALA’s primary goals are offering continuing paralegal education and increasing the visibility of paralegals within the legal field. The WDALA also educates the public about the role of the paralegal and works to recruit more students into the profession by speaking at schools. Networking and social meetings are regularly offered to members as well.
The WDALA offers four levels of membership:
- Active Membership – Open to anyone who meets one of the following:
- Passed the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA)/Certified Paralegal (CP) exam from NALA
- Graduate of an ABA-approved paralegal program
- Graduate of an institutionally-approved paralegal program that includes at least 60 semester credits of classroom study
- Six months of in-house paralegal training
- Three years of law-related experience that includes at least six months of in-house paralegal training
- Two years of in-house paralegal training
- Associate Membership – Open to actively employed paralegals who do not qualify for Active Membership
- Student Membership – Open to any student enrolled full-time in a paralegal program
- Sustaining Membership – Open to individuals, law firms, corporations, bar association members, and members of the educational field, who support the paralegal concept
Large law firms often provide good entry-points for recently-minted paralegals. In a rural state like North Dakota, most large law offices are concentrated in metropolitans areas. Bismarck is home to several large law offices, including:
- Vogel Law Firm
- Ohnstad Twichell Attorneys
- Mackoff Kellogg Law Firm
- Nilles Law Firm
- Crowley Fleck PLLP
- Fredrikson & Byron, P.A.
- Ebeltoft Sickler
Important Contacts for Paralegals
- Western Dakota Association of Legal Assistants (WDALA), affiliated with NALA
- Red River Valley Paralegal Association (RRVPA), affiliated with NALA
- State Bar Association of North Dakota (SBAND)
- North Dakota Supreme Court Rule 5.3 – Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants
- North Dakota Secretary of State
- The North Dakota Courts