Becoming a Paralegal in Oklahoma - OK

paralegal oklahoma

Oklahoma’s paralegals are the heroes of the legal environment, providing support services that allow law services to remain cost-effective and efficient. Whether your career plans include working in the corporate world with companies like Chesapeake Energy, Hobby Lobby, and Sonic, in nonprofit organizations like the Children’s Hospital Foundation, the University of Tulsa, and INTEGRIS Health, or in some of the state’s biggest law firms like Barrow & Grimm, P.C., Conner & Winters, LLP, and Crowe & Dunlevy, you’ll find exciting opportunities throughout Oklahoma.

But before you begin exploring this profession, you’ll want to make sure you learn how to become a paralegal in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 5.3: Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants defines paralegals according to American Bar Association (ABA) standards. The ABA defines paralegals as people that are qualified to perform substantive legal tasks through training, work experience or education. Paralegals must be supervised by lawyers and follow standards of ethics and confidentiality. Supervising lawyers assume responsibility for their nonlawyer assistants’ professional conduct. Rule 5.3 does not set forth state regulations for the education and training of paralegals.

While paralegals are not required by law to meet standards of education or training, the Boards of Governors of the Oklahoma Bar Association (OBA) adopted Minimum Qualification Standards for Legal Assistants/Paralegals in 2000. The OBA encourages its members and others who hire paralegals to employ persons that meet these standards. According to the OBA guidelines, a qualified paralegal meets one of the following standards:

Oklahoma Job Statistics

  • Number of paralegals employed: 2,690
  • 2020 average annual salary: $47,490
  • Number of active lawyers: 13,549 as of 2021
  • Successful completion of the National Association of Legal Assistant’s Certified Legal Assistant Examination Exam (“CLA”) or the National Federation of Paralegal Association’s Paralegal Advanced Competency (“PACE”)
  • Graduation from an ABA-approved paralegal studies program
  • A high school diploma or equivalent and completion of a paralegal studies program that is accredited and which is similar in rigor to the current ABA approval guidelines
  • A baccalaureate or associate degree in any field from an accredited institution and either two years of full-time substantive work experience or coursework in paralegal studies equivalent in semester hours to an ABA approved paralegal studies program
  • A high school diploma or its equivalent, and graduation from an accredited school for paralegals that requires at least 60 semester hours of study including the current ABA required amount in legal specialty courses, and either two years of substantive full-time work experience or the completion of a bachelor’s or associate degree
  • A high school diploma or its equivalent, plus five or more years of substantive work experience
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Is There Paralegal Certification in Oklahoma?

As the paralegal profession continues to grow, increasing numbers of aspiring paralegals are choosing education as their entry point into the profession. In a competitive job market, a certificate or degree can help distinguish a job candidate. Increasing numbers of employers and bar associations are encouraging the hiring of demonstrably qualified paralegals as well. While the OBA guidelines do not require that all paralegal studies program be ABA approved, they do desire similar amounts of semester hours and require minimum amounts of substantive legal coursework. The OBA guidelines also require that educational institutions be accredited. ABA approval requirements and educational accreditation are important to research when selecting an educational program.

In addition to earning an associate or bachelor’s degree, aspiring paralegals can choose to earn a certificate in paralegal studies. There are two types of certificate programs: those that require that applicants have previously earned a bachelor’s degree and those that will accept people with no higher education. Certificate programs offer a specialized course in paralegal studies without many general educations requirements. Graduates earn a certificate of completion and become certificated paralegals.

National Certification

National certification, through which paralegals become certified paralegals, is available to those paralegals who meet educational and work experience requirements and who pass a national exam. OBA’s qualification standards for paralegals recognize the exams offered by NALA and the NFPA.  However, there are four exams from which to choose:

A comparison of the requirements for the national exams can be found here.

Paralegal Associations

In Oklahoma, there are three professional organizations that offer support, education and advocacy to paralegals. These organizations, which are all affiliated with NALA, are the Oklahoma Paralegal Association (OPA), the Central Oklahoma Association of Legal Assistants (COALA), and the Tulsa Area Paralegal Association (TAPA).

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Oklahoma Paralegal Association (OPA) – An affiliate of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the OPA has four levels of membership:

  • Active – Open to people employed as paralegals as well as those with NALA certification
  • Associate – Open to those involved in the employment and supervision of paralegals, as well as members of the legal community who support paralegals
  • Student – Open to students enrolled in an institutionally accredited paralegal program
  • Sustaining – Open to those who promote the paralegal profession

Central Oklahoma Association of Legal Assistants (COALA) – An affiliate of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), COALA offers four levels of membership:

  • Active – Open to those who have completed one of the following:
    • Graduate of an ABA-approved paralegal program plus six months of paralegal experience
    • Bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies plus six months of paralegal experience
    • Bachelor’s degree in any field and employment as a paralegal for at least one year
    • Three years of paralegal work experience
    • Passage of a paralegal exam for national certification and employment as a paralegal for at least six months
  • Associate – Open to those who meet one of the following:
    • Graduate of an ABA-approved paralegal program and less than six months of paralegal experience
    • Bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies and less than six months of paralegal experience
    • Bachelor’s degree in any field with employment as a paralegal for less than one year
    • Employed as a paralegal for at least six months
    • Passage of a paralegal exam for national certification and employment as a paralegal for at least six months
  • Affiliate – Open to those who meet one of the following:
    • Bar member who endorses the paralegal concept
    • Directly involved in the employment or supervision of paralegals
    • Employee, corporation, business, government agency, or paralegal program who is actively involved in the promotion of the profession
  • Student – Open to students in good standing and enrolled in an ABA-approved paralegal program

Tulsa Area Paralegal Association (TAPA) – An affiliate of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), TAPA offers four levels of membership:

  • Active – Open to any individual who meets at least one of the following:
    • Passed NALA’s Certified Legal Assistant (CLA)/Certified Paralegal (CP) exam
    • Graduate of an ABA-approved paralegal program
    • Graduate of an institutionally-accredited paralegal program that has substantial similarities with ABA guidelines
    • Bachelor’s, associate’s, or post-bac in any field and two years of paralegal work experience
    • Graduate of an institutionally-accredited paralegal school with 60 semester credits of classroom study and either two years of paralegal work experience or a bachelor’s/associate’s degree
    • High school diploma and five years of paralegal work experience
  • Associate – Open to members of the bar association who promote the paralegal concept, paralegal educators, and those involved in the supervision of paralegals
  • Student – Open to students enrolled in a paralegal program
  • Sustaining – Open to non-paralegals who are related to the legal profession

In addition to offering continuing legal education, representing the interests of paralegals in state and national conversations, and forging working relationships with others in the legal community, these organizations work to ensure that paralegals have access to job banks, information, networking opportunities and social occasions.

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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