Nearly 3,500 people work as paralegals in Wisconsin according to the 2011 employment survey by the Bureau of Statistics. The largest concentrations of paralegals work in metropolitan areas like Madison and Milwaukee.
Under Wisconsin’s Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3, lawyers must provide direct supervision of their nonlawyer assistants, including paralegals. Rule 5.3 further obligates lawyers to provide their paralegals with instruction on professional duties, including confidentiality and ethics, and requires that lawyers assume responsibility for their assistants’ professional conduct.
Wisconsin has visited the subject of paralegal regulation, but currently does not have any regulations in place regarding the education and training of paralegals. Thus aspiring paralegals may enter the professional through on-the-job training or education.
Is There Paralegal Certification in Wisconsin?
Education can provide aspiring paralegals with a solid foundation for their careers while helping them distinguish themselves from other entry-level job candidates. In a state like Wisconsin, which is considering paralegal regulation, education can help paralegals qualify for state or national certification. Most employers value the knowledge and skill set of educated paralegals.
The American Bar Association (ABA) approves of paralegal education programs which meet certain requirements for semester hours and rigor. Employers and professional associations, including those that offer certification, may desire that a paralegal’s certificate or degree program meets these ABA standards. Additionally, accreditation of the educational institution by a state board of education may be desired by employers or associations. Prospective students should research their educational choices thoroughly.
|Wisconsin Job Statistics|
Paralegal education is available through both certificate-granting and degree-conferring programs. Associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees can be earned in paralegal studies, which can usually be completed in two to five years. Degrees offer a solid education in paralegal studies balanced with a broad survey of other disciplines met through general education requirements.
Students often complete certificate programs more quickly than degree programs because general education courses are usually not required. Post-baccalaureate certificate programs are designed for students who have previously earned a bachelor’s degree in any subject. Program coursework focuses primarily on paralegal studies to supplement the previous education. Other certificate programs may admit students with no previous higher education who do not desire a degree. Graduates from a certificate program are considered to be certificated paralegals.
Paralegal certification through national exams is a way to demonstrate the skill level of competence of individual paralegals and thereby elevate the paralegal profession. In order to sit for the exam, paralegals must meet educational or work experience requirements. Upon passing the national certification exams, 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 PCCE 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.
Paralegals in Wisconsin may choose from three professional organizations: the Paralegal Association of Wisconsin (PAW), the Wisconsin Association for Legal Professionals (WALP), and the Madison Area Paralegal Association (MAPA).
With chapters throughout the state, including Fox Valley, La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee and Wausau, PAW offers both local connections and statewide advocacy to paralegals. PAW has been in leader in addressing the matter of paralegal regulation, working with the Wisconsin State Bar, legislators and others to draft guidelines for regulation. Education, professional knowledge, and increasing the role of and regard for the paralegal profession within the legal community are important values of PAW. Members also may benefit from the seminars, networking opportunities, scholarships, and pro bono work that PAW offers.
WALP offers educational opportunities and support for certification to many types of legal professionals, including paralegals. Local chapters include St. Croix Valley, Racine-Kenosha, South Central Wisconsin, Lakeshore Area, Greater Milwaukee and the Bay Area.
MAPA’s primary purposes are furthering the educational attainment of its members by offering substantive educational opportunities and increasing the utilization of paralegals within the legal field. MAPA members meet at least five times per year for networking opportunities, education and information sharing. MAPA also offers its members a job bank.
Wisconsin’s law firms offer many entry-level jobs for newly-minted paralegals. Law firms are the largest employers of paralegals throughout the country. In Wisconsin, these large employers include:
- Foley & Lardner
- Quarles & Brady
- Michael Best & Friedrich
- Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren
- Godfrey & Kahn
- Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek
- von Briesen & Roper
- DeWitt Ross & Stevens
- Davis & Kuelthau
- Axley Brynelson
Important Contacts for Paralegals
- The Paralegal Association of Wisconsin (PAW), affiliated with the NFPA
- Wisconsin Association for Legal Professionals (WALP), affiliated with NALS
- Madison Area Paralegal Association (MAPA), affiliated with NALA
- The State Bar of Wisconsin
- The Office of Secretary of State of Wisconsin
- The Wisconsin Court System