With nearly 4,000 people at work, paralegals account for more than one quarter of legal professionals in Tennessee according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2016 employment survey. The majority of Tennessee’s paralegals work in the Nashville area.
The state of Tennessee does not regulate the paralegal profession, setting no legal standards for education or training. However, Supreme Court Rule 5.3 does guide the professional conduct of lawyers with regards to nonlawyer assistants. Lawyers are required to directly supervise and instruct their paraprofessional employees, especially in matters of ethics and confidentiality. They also must accept professional responsibility for the work produced by their employees.
Is There Paralegal Certification in Tennessee?
Although paralegals in Tennessee may enter the profession through on-the-job training, increasing numbers are pursuing educational coursework in paralegal studies. Entry-level job candidates may benefit from a certificate or degree, which demonstrates their commitment to the field and distinguishes them from other job candidates. The American Bar Association (ABA) approves some programs that meet criteria for coursework and rigor. Certificates or degrees conferred by state board of education accredited institutions are often preferred by employers and professional organizations.
Tennessee Job Statistics
Degree programs combine general education coursework with a focus in paralegal studies. Currently students may choose to earn an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree in paralegal studies. These programs may take from two to five years to complete.
Another option for aspiring paralegals is a certificate programs. These educational programs offer specialized instruction in paralegal studies without many general education requirements. Those who complete such a program earn certificates of completion and become certificated paralegals. Certificate programs may be open to those with a high school degree or equivalent or may require that applicants already hold a bachelor’s degree in any field.
Paralegals with education, training or work experience can choose to become certified paralegals by successfully completing a national certification exam. These exams are offered by the three national professional paralegal associations as a way for paralegals to demonstrate their competence within the field and for employers to recognize their skill level. 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. They are:
- 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)
The Tennessee Paralegal Association (TPA) has chapters throughout the state, including central, southeast, east and west Tennessee. In addition to working towards increased utilization of paralegals in the legal community, the TPA provides support for its members through networking events, continuing legal education (CLE), pro bono opportunities, scholarships and a job bank.
Paralegals living or working near Nashville can join the Middle Tennessee Paralegal Association. Community service has a prominent role in the MTPA, which encourages its members to volunteer at legal clinics and other events that bring affordable legal services to the public. These events are part of the MTPA’s work to increase the visibility of paralegals in the legal community and also to provide social opportunities for its members. Other goals of the MTPA include assisting members in furthering their education, earning national certification, and helping members stay informed of issues affecting the paralegal profession.
Paralegals from any state may join the Smoky Mountain Paralegal Association (SMPA), which also welcomes students, attorneys, law firms, businesses and other interested in supporting and promoting the paralegal profession. The SMPA organizes an annual seminar which includes ten hours of CLE, maintains an online discussion forum, and offers networking opportunities, a job bank and many other benefits to its members.
The Greater Memphis Paralegal Association offers monthly educational meetings to its members as part of its mission to help paralegals increase their skills and grow professionally. It also offers community service opportunities, a job bank, and support for those working towards national certification through NALA’s CLA/CP exam.
Metropolitan areas like Nashville and Memphis are often home to the large law firms that employ many paralegals. These can be good entry-points for beginning paralegals. Large law firms in Tennessee include:
Important Contacts for Paralegals
- Tennessee Paralegal Association (TPA), affiliated with NALA
- Middle Tennessee Paralegal Association (MTPA), affiliated with the NFPA
- Smoky Mountain Paralegal Association (SMPA), affiliated with NALA
- Greater Memphis Paralegal Association (GMPA), affiliated with NALA
- Tennessee Bar Association
- Tennessee Secretary of State
- Tennessee State Courts