Becoming a Paralegal in Washington - WA

paralegal washingtonA 2010 survey conducted by the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics showed there were more than 6,100 paralegals working throughout Washington State. Many of these legal paraprofessionals, often referred to as legal assistants, work for some of the most prestigious and best-recognized law firms in the Western US, most of which are located in the greater Seattle area, including Tacoma and Bellevue.

Paralegals in Washington enjoy a unique level of autonomy thanks to a forward-thinking initiative sponsored by area law firms, that succeeded in allowing paralegals to present court filings in lieu of an attorney for certain time-sensitive ex parte matters.

Is There Paralegal Certification in Washington State?

As is the case in most states, Washington maintains no legal requirement for becoming registered, certified, or licensed as a paralegal. As such, there is no governing body in the state in place to regulate these legal paraprofessionals.

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According to the Washington State Paralegal Association, a volunteer member professional organization, paralegals who have completed a formal course of study through ABA (American Bar Association) or non-ABA recognized programs, are more accurately referred to as “certificated”, as opposed to certified. It is an important distinction to make, as a paralegal can only become certified on a national level after completing an elective certification program.

Paralegal professional certification is pursued on a strictly volunteer basis through national programs culminating in competency-assessment exams. Participation in these programs and eligibility to sit for these exams require candidates to have a minimum level of education – typically an associate’s degree – as well as a minimum number of years of experience.

Washington Job Statistics

  • 2011 mean income for paralegals in Washington: $49,950
  • Supreme Court adopts Limited License Legal Technician rule effective beginning September 1, 2012
  • Number of paralegals employed in Washington: 6,400

National certification for paralegals is available through one of a few different professional organizations:

A comparison of exam qualifications and requirements for each organization is available here.

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations is the umbrella organization under which the Washington State Paralegal Association operates. For more than 15 years, the NFPA has facilitated the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE), the successful completion of which results in paralegals being granted the privilege of using the well recognized RP (PACE Registered Paralegal) credential.

The NFPA launched its new Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCE) in 2011. Successful completion of this exam allows paralegals to use the CRP (CORE Registered Paralegal) credential.

Detailed information on national certification is available here.

Although there is no legal enforcement of an educational minimum for paralegals in Washington, those who have completed formal educational programs are recognized as being better-qualified job candidates. For this reason, most aspiring paralegals pursue either accelerated certificate programs, or full degree programs leading to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Earning one of these degrees also fulfills educational minimums required to pursue elective national certification.

Presenting Ex Parte Fillings

Under a ruling that grants Washington state’s paralegals expanded practice privileges, a number of counties in the state allow paralegals to present ex parte filings within the county court system, an operation that is typically restricted to licensed attorneys. Paralegals can elect to register with county courts or local County Bar Associations so as to be granted the ability under the law to present these ex parte filings in court in lieu of an attorney.

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Ex parte matters are often handled by a special division of the court system that is responsible for hearing civil and family law matters, typically under emergency situations where it is necessary for the courts to intercede to prevent personal injury or property damage. These time-sensitive emergency orders typically include:

  • Evictions and unlawful detainer actions
  • Guardianships and trusts
  • Vulnerable adult protection orders
  • Requests for emergency temporary domestic violence, anti-harassment, and sexual assault protection orders
  • Requests for emergency temporary restraining orders
  • Minor or incapacitated adult settlements
  • Probate and trusts
  • Orders setting hearings
  • Adoptions

The participating county court systems through which Washington paralegals may register for the ability to present ex parte filings are:

  • King County
  • Snohomish County
  • Pierce County
  • Spokane County

This unusual exception was granted to Washington’s paralegals in response to a petition organized by a collective of paralegals and Washington state licensed attorneys.

Legal Assistant County Court Registration

Paralegal registration at the county level is an elective process, typically pursued at the behest of a paralegal’s employing attorney or law firm. There are only a handful of county jurisdictions that support this program, and each participating county has its own registration process.

Contact the bar association in the county of interest to inquire about the specific process within that jurisdiction:

The following is a description of the paralegal registration requirements, and the process description for King County:

Entitlements
The King County Bar Association Legal Assistant Registration Program allows registered paralegals the following entitlements:

  • Access to court files from the King County Clerks’ office
  • Access to the King County Law Library (additional application and fees required)
  • The ability to present ex parte orders to court

Qualifications
Paralegals who have performed attorney-supervised work as an employee, or under a contracted employment arrangement, with a law firm, corporation or administrative agency for at least six months, are eligible for registration with the King County Bar Association (KCBA).

The registration requirements also stipulate that at least half the work the paralegal has performed during this time be defined as non-clerical, to include investigative and information gathering work, as well as work that has involved independent judgment where client interactions were involved.

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Applicants for registration must hold a degree or certificate of completion from an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited program, or have the equivalent in combined college education and legal fieldwork experience, as is ultimately determined by the supervising attorney. Applicants are also expected to have completed no fewer than two courses in legal education: one specific to ethics, and one within the paralegal’s area of specialty.

Registration Process
For paralegals under the fulltime employ of a law firm or other organization, the initial application must include:

  • Initial Application Form
  • A letter of recommendation from the supervising attorney, referred to as the ‘Responsible Attorney’
  • Affidavit of the Responsible Attorney
  • Affidavit of Applicant
  • Proof of degree or certificate earned
  • Verification of participation in educational seminars or courses in ethics and the paralegal’s area of specialty
  • $35 registration fee

For paralegals under contracted employment, the initial application must include:

  • The Initial Application Form
  • A letter of recommendation from the supervising attorney, referred to as the ‘Sponsoring Attorney’
  • Affidavit of Sponsoring Attorney  (sponsoring attorney will be the individual that assumes responsibility for the applicant’s adherence to the terms of KCBA registration)
  • Affidavit of Applicant
  • Affidavit of the Responsible Attorney (from each law firm with which the applicant has contracted)
  • Proof of degree or certificate earned
  • Verification of participation in educational seminars or courses in ethics and the paralegal’s area of specialty
  • $60 registration fee

Professional Associations

Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) – This association offers two paralegal credentials that allow you to practice in certain areas with expanded independence.

Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) – This credential is designed to allow paralegals to work independently in certain areas of family law. The WSBA describes this credential as being a great opportunity for experienced paralegals who want to work independently or start their own business.

To qualify for the LLLT credential you must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Have an associate’s degree or higher
  • Complete 45 credits from an ABA-approved paralegal program
  • Complete a sequence of online courses in specific practice areas
  • Have 3,000 hours of paralegal work experience
  • Pass three exams – the Paralegal Core Competency (PCC) Exam, the Practice Area Exam, and the Professional Responsibility Exam

LLLT Waiver Option – You can potentially get the associate’s degree, 45-credit paralegal program, andPCCEExam waived if you have 10 years of law-related experience under the supervision of a lawyer and a national paralegal credential sponsored by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPS), or NALS.

Limited Practice Officer (LPO) – This credential authorizes paralegals to select, prepare, and complete documents in pre-approved forms for use in closing a loan, extension of credit, sale, or other transfer of real or personal property.

To qualify for the LPO credential you must pass a four-hour exam that covers property and real estate law.

NALS of Washington – A state-level affiliate of NALS, this organization and its local chapters encourage NALS paralegal certifications and membership. NALS of Washington is made up of these local chapters:

  • NALS of Kitsap County
  • NALS of Greater Seattle
  • NALS of Pierce County
  • NALS of Spokane

Membership options with NALS of Washington and its local chapters are as follows:

  • 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

Washington State Paralegal Association (WSPA) – Affiliated with the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), the WSPA has four membership levels:

  • Member – Open to paralegals who live or work in the state who have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree that includes 24 semester credits in paralegal studies, or three years of paralegal work experience
  • Associate Member – Open to any paralegal outside the state, as well as in-state non-practicing and retired paralegals
  • Student Member – Open to full-time students enrolled in a paralegal studies program
  • Sustaining Member – Open to any person or entity that supports the WSPA

There are five local chapters in the greater Seattle area that make up the WSPA:

  • East King County Chapter
  • Northwest Chapter
  • Seattle Chapter
  • Snohomish County Chapter
  • South Puget Sound Chapter

Top Law Firms

Washington is home to some of the most respected law firms in the Western US. These law firms are also among the area’s major employers of paralegals:

  • Perkins Coie
  • Davis Wright Tremaine
  • K& L Gates
  • Foster Pepper
  • Lane Powell
  • Stoel Rives
  • Williams Kastner
  • Dorsey & Whitney
  • Gordon, Thomas, Honewell, Malanca, Peterson & Daheim
  • Garvey Schubert Barer
  • Karr Tuttle Campbell
  • Reddell Williams P.S.
  • Keller Rohrback
  • Graham & Dunn
  • Paine Hamblen
  • Ryan, Swanson & Cleveland
  • Ogden Murphy Wallace
  • Miller Nash
  • Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
  • Hillis Clark Martin & Peterson
  • Witherspoon, Kelley, Davenport & Toole
  • Carney Badley Spellman
  • Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt

Important Contacts for Paralegals

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