Earning a spot among the top states in the nation for GDP growth in recent years, Oregon’s economy has shown an incredible resilience that’s due, in part, to the growth of clean energy and high technology, low unemployment, and an ability to attract and retain a young, educated workforce. This, of course, always means good news for the legal services industry and, in turn, the paralegal profession.
From large corporations like Nike and Portland General Electric to big law firms like Miller Nash Graham & Dunn and Davis Wright Tremaine, Oregon is where exciting opportunities for paralegals are found. Part of learning how to become a paralegal in Oregon is learning what education and credentials today’s top lawyers demand.
Oregon paralegals are not subject to state regulations for training or education. Aspiring paralegals may pursue a direct entry into the field through on-the-job training or they may obtain education in paralegal studies.
The paralegal-attorney relationship is defined in Oregon’s Rule 5.3. As in other states, attorneys in Oregon must provide direct supervision of paralegals, instruct them in matters of ethics and confidentiality, and assume responsibility for their professional conduct. Paralegals may perform substantive legal work but may not perform tasks that could be considered the unauthorized practice of law.
Is There Paralegal Certification in Oregon?
As the paralegal profession continues to grow, many aspiring paralegals are choosing to enter the field through education. Education can help set job candidates apart in a competitive job market in addition to preparing entry level paralegals for a work environment that assumes a high level of competence. Education can also help qualify paralegals to take one of the voluntary national certification exams to become certified paralegals. Employers as well as the professional organizations that offer national certification may require that the educational programs be accredited, American Bar Association (ABA) approved or both. These are important criteria to investigate when considering a school or program.
|Oregon Job Statistics|
In addition to associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in paralegal studies, aspiring paralegals can also earn certificates in paralegal studies. Certificate programs offer focused coursework in paralegal studies without many general education requirements. Many are designed to supplement a bachelor’s degree, offering a focus in paralegal studies to students with a preexisting degree in another field. Other certificate programs will admit students who do not hold degrees. A graduate from a certificate program is a certificated paralegal.
National certification is provided by the national paralegal professional associations to paralegals who meet eligibility requirements and who pass one of the national certification exams. Upon successfully completing the exam, paralegals become 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 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)
Requirements for the national exams differ between the three national paralegal organizations. A comparison can be found here.
The Oregon Paralegal Association (OPA) provides support, socialization, continuing education and information to paralegals throughout the state. OPA has committees working on everything from pro bono opportunities to a mentoring program to specialization areas like intellectual property.
As an affiliate of the NFPA, the OPA works to promote high levels of professionalism and ethics among its members and encourages them to take the PACE/PCC exams for national certification. The OPA offers six levels of membership:
- Associate – Open to the following individuals:
- Formerly an active Regular member who no longer works as a paralegal
- Graduates of a paralegal training program
- Anyone interested in becoming a paralegal
- Emeritus – Open to retired paralegals who have been regular, public sector, or associate members of the OPA in the past for at least three years
- Public Sector – Open to practicing paralegals who work in an agency or law firm that provides services for the public interest, such as to indigent and low-income clients
- Regular – Open to currently employed paralegals
- Student – Open to full and part-time students who are enrolled in a paralegal studies program
- Sustaining – Open to any individual or entity that supports the paralegal profession and the OPA
While OPA has many members in the Portland area, it also has a group that meets regionally called South of Portland Paralegals.
NALS of Oregon – This association is the state-level affiliate of NALS. It and its local chapters promote membership on the following levels with NALS and support NALS certifications.
- 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
There are seven local chapters of this association throughout the state:
- Central Oregon Legal Professionals
- Legal Professionals of Douglas County
- NALS of Lane County
- NALS of Mid-Willamette Valley
- NALS of Portland
- NALS of Southern Oregon Coast
- NALS Members at Large
Law firms are the largest employers of paralegals and can be good entry points into the paralegal profession. Large law firms often hire paralegals to assist with their workload. In Oregon, Portland is home to many large law firms, including:
- Stoel Rives LLP
- Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt
- Davis Wright Tremaine
- Tonkon Torp LLP
- Miller Nash LLP
- Bullivant Houser Bailey PC
- Lane Powell PC
- Klarquist Sparman LLP
- Dunn Carney Allen Higgins & Tongue LLP
- Perkins Coie LLP
- Smith Freed & Eberhard PC
Important Contacts for Paralegals
- Oregon Paralegal Association (OPA), affiliated with the NFPA
- Oregon State Bar
- Oregon Secretary of State
- Oregon Judicial Department
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.