More than 2,000 paralegals were employed in West Virginia in 2016 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, West Virginia ranked second for the highest concentration of jobs for paralegals of any state in the country. Charleston ranked first for greatest concentration of paralegal jobs among all metropolitan areas in the nation, and many other paralegals were employed in the metro-District of Columbia region.
As in other states, West Virginia lawyers’ professional conduct is governed by Rule 5.3. Under this rule, lawyers must directly supervise any nonlawyer assistants, including paralegals. Lawyers are also responsible for the professional conduct of their assistants and must offer them instruction in ethics and confidentiality.
West Virginia state law does not currently regulate paralegals, although a bill was introduced in 2010 to require state certification of paralegals. Under that bill, which did not pass but could be brought before the legislature in the future, paralegal certification would include:
- Successful completion of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal (CLA/CP) exam
- Graduation from an American Bar Association (ABA) approved paralegal studies program
- Graduation from a paralegal studies program that is institutionally accredited but not ABA approved, and which includes at least 60 semester hours of classroom study
- Graduation from a paralegal studies program not described above, plus a minimum of six months of in-house training as a paralegal
- Special cases may be made for grandfathering in paralegals with life experience and previous employment within twenty-four months of the date of enactment of this article
Is There Paralegal Certification in West Virginia?
As paralegals become more widely utilized within the legal community and increasing numbers of states consider regulation of the profession, great numbers of prospective paralegals are choosing education as an entry-point into the field. Education can prepare a paralegal both for future employment and for taking a national certification exam. Paralegals with degrees and certificates may also stand out in a competitive job market.
West Virginia Job Statistics
As noted in the proposed regulations above, some paralegal programs are ABA approved, offered by accredited educational institutions or both. If a paralegal plans to pursue professional development, such as national certification, program choices should be closely evaluated for ABA approval or accreditation.
Paralegal studies degree programs offer students both a broad spectrum of general education classes and focused coursework in paralegal studies. Students may earn associate, bachelor’s or master’s degrees in paralegal studies. Depending on the program chosen, a degree will take between two and five years to complete.
Students who already possess bachelor’s degrees or who do not wish to earn a degree may complete a certificate program. Certificate programs can usually be completed more quickly than degree programs as they do not have many general education requirements. Certificate programs offer focused coursework in paralegal studies to prepare graduates for their new career. Those who complete a certificate program become certificated paralegals.
National certification is sometimes earned as part of state regulation. It can also be earned by paralegals who wish to distinguish themselves among their peers and be recognized as highly competent in their field. In order to sit for a national certification exam, paralegals must meet educational or work experience requirements. Upon passing the exam, they 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 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.
In the region including Charleston and Huffington, the Legal Assistants/Paralegals of Southern West Virginia (LAPSWV) offers members opportunities for continuing legal education and professional development, a forum for exchanging ideas and networking, involvement with local charities and representation within the legal community. LAPSWV encourages its members to seek national certification through its affiliate, NALA, and has scholarships and study groups in place to support those preparing for the CLA/CP exam.
The West Virginia Bar Association has a Paralegal Division with the goals of furthering professional development, offering continuing legal education (CLE) and promoting good fellowship between members of the legal community. The Paralegal Division regularly offers CLE through seminars, meetings and workshops.
Law Firms in
Many paralegals in West Virginia are employed by large law firms. These firms include:
Important Contacts for Paralegals
- Legal Assistants/Paralegals of Southern West Virginia (LAPSWV), affiliated with NALA.
- The West Virginia Bar Association – Legal Assistant Division
- The West Virginia State Bar
- The West Virginia Secretary of State
- West Virginia Judiciary
- West Virginia Legislature – Certified Legal Assistant Act (proposed)