The 2016 US Bureau of Labor Statistics employment survey found more than 1,200 paralegals work in Rhode Island, though many others are employed in neighboring states. Rhode Island’s paralegals work across all sectors, including private law firms, corporations and government agencies.
In Rhode Island, there are no regulations that establish minimum qualifications for paralegals with regards to training and education. Aspiring paralegals may directly enter the field by finding employment that provides training. Alternately, they may complete coursework in paralegal studies prior to beginning their careers.
Rhode Island’s Supreme Court defines paralegals in a manner similar to other states. Supreme Court Provisional Order No.18, along with Rule 5.3, requires that paralegals work under the direct supervision of a lawyer. Paralegals may provide direct services to clients, judges and lawyers. However, they must not practice law, but rather should do work assigned to them by lawyers. Supervisory lawyers are responsible for their paralegals’ professional conduct and must provide guidance on standards of ethics and confidentiality.
Is There Paralegal Certification in Rhode Island?
Many educational paths are available to aspiring paralegals. The Rhode Island Paralegal Association (RIPA) encourages paralegals to pursue higher education such as associate and bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies. Education can also help entry-level paralegals stand out in a competitive job market. National paralegal certification may be available to paralegals with educational credentials as well. Both future employers and the paralegal associations that offer national certification may desire that paralegal studies programs be approved by the American Bar Association (ABA), offered by accredited educational institutions or both.
Rhode Island Job Statistics
Certificate programs in paralegal studies are available to aspiring paralegals in addition to associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Many paralegal certificate programs require that applicants have previously earned a bachelor’s degree in any field. These certificate programs offer specialized coursework in paralegal studies without many general education requirements. Other certificate programs do not have the prerequisite of a degree. Graduates of certificate programs are called certificated paralegals.
Certified paralegals are those paralegals that have successfully completed the national certification process.
National certification is available to paralegals that meet entry requirements in education and work experience. Once eligible, those paralegals may sit for a national certification exam. If they pass, they become certified paralegals. Currently the three national professional organizations offer four 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.
Since 1979, the Rhode Island Paralegal Association (RIPA) has worked to raise the professional and ethical standards of paralegals, increase the utilization of paralegals within the legal community, and build working relationships with other legal organizations throughout Rhode Island. As an affiliate of the NFPA, RIPA represents the statewide and national interests of Rhode Island paralegals.
Membership in RIPA allows paralegals access to continuing legal education (CLE), social events, a job bank, scholarships and pro bono service opportunities. Membership is open to students, entry-level paralegals and veteran paralegals.
Large law firms often employ paralegals and good be good entry-points into the paralegal profession. Rhode Island’s largest law firms include: