Becoming a Paralegal in Tennessee - TN

paralegal tennesseeWith over 4,400 people at work, paralegals account for over one third of legal professionals in Tennessee according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2011 employment survey. The majority of Tennessee’s paralegals work in its large cities, such as Memphis and Nashville.

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.


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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

  • 2011 mean income for paralegals in Tennessee: $40,760
  • 72% of paralegals reported that their employers provided bonuses
  • 75% of paralegals reported their employers paid for continuing education course
  • 78% of paralegals reported that employers provided/paid for health insurance
  • 73% of paralegals reported that their employers paid for Tennessee Paralegal Association chapter dues

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.

National Certification

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:

 

Paralegal Associations

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.

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The TPA and its local chapter affiliates have three levels of membership:

  • Active – Open to anyone who meets 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 school with 60 semester credits of classroom study
    • Graduate of paralegal program plus six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Bachelor’s degree in any field plus six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Three years of law-related experience under an attorney’s supervision, including at least six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Two years of in-house paralegal training
  • Student – Open to full-time students enrolled in a paralegal program
  • Sustaining/Associate – Open to individuals, law firms, corporations, and paralegal program representatives who endorse the paralegal concept

The local chapters of the TPA are:

  • Central Tennessee Chapter
  • East Tennessee Chapter
  • Southeast Tennessee Chapter

Smoky Mountain Paralegal Association (SMPA) – Paralegals from any state may join the (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 SMPA has four levels of membership:

  • Active – Open to individuals who meet 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 school with 60 semester credits of classroom study
    • Graduate of paralegal program plus six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Bachelor’s degree in any field plus six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Three years of law-related experience under an attorney’s supervision, including at least six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Five years of law-related experience that include two years of in-house paralegal training
  • Associate – Open to those who would qualify for Active membership, except for meeting the in-house training component
  • Student – Open to any individual who is enrolled full-time in a paralegal studies program
  • Sustaining – Open to law firms, schools, corporations, and individuals who support the paralegal concept

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. The GMPA has three levels of membership:

  • Active – Open to anyone who meets 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 school with 60 semester credits of classroom study
    • Graduate of a paralegal program plus six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Bachelor’s degree in any field plus six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Three years of law-related experience under an attorney’s supervision, including at least six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Two years of in-house paralegal training
    • LPN, RN, SN, or currently employed as a Legal Nurse Consultant (LNC)
  • Student – Open to anyone enrolled in a paralegal studies program who is not currently employed as a paralegal
  • Sustaining – Open to individuals, law firms, corporations, paralegal program representatives, bar association members, members of the paralegal education field, and those directly involved in the supervision of paralegals, who support the paralegal concept

MLSA Legal Professionals of Memphis – An affiliate of NALS, this association encourages NALS paralegal certifications, and promotes these levels of NALS membership:

  • 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

NALS Nashville – An affiliate of NALS, this organization encourages NALS paralegal certifications, and promotes these levels of NALS membership:

  • 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

Middle Tennessee Paralegal Association – Paralegals living or working near Nashville can also 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.

 

Law Firms

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:

  • Bass, Berry & Sims PLC
  • Waller Lansden Dortch and Davis
  • Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC
  • Stites & Harbison, PLLC
  • Adams and Reese LLP
  • Husch Blackwell LLP
  • Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
  • Fisher & Phillips LLP
  • Jackson Lewis LLP
  • Ford & Harrison LLP
  • Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, LLP

 

Important Contacts for Paralegals

 

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