How to Become a Paralegal in Iowa
Paralegals perform many of the same duties normally done by lawyers, including research, drafting documents, interviewing clients and organizing case files for courtroom presentation. They might even be charged with creating presentations for the court and filing briefs and motions in the judge’s chambers. The paralegal profession is said to be gaining momentum, as some firms are looking to hire more paralegals than attorneys as a cost-saving measure. If you are in Iowa and want to learn how to become a paralegal, keep reading.
How to Become a Paralegal
Though there are no specific academic credentials needed to become a paralegal in Iowa, you should realize competition can be fierce for jobs and those with a degree generally have better chances. No matter which path you choose, try to focus your efforts on the end result and make yourself as marketable as possible. Here is one possible pathway to success:
When you decide to become a paralegal in the state of Iowa, take some time to assess your personal skills, preferences and aptitudes. The following questions might help:
Do you like puzzles and logical problems? If so, then you might be a good fit for the legal field. After all, lawyers must take the LSAT, which is comprised of logical reasoning, logic games and comprehension questions in part, prior to going to law school. If you are logic-minded, you may find good company in a law firm.
Do you like doing research and finding the truth of a subject? As a paralegal, you will need to do lots of research to support a lawyer’s arguments in court. Even if you are not involved in litigation, you may need to delve deep into certain subjects to find legal precedents, or other facts to support your client’s case and best interests.
Do you like to read and write? These two skills will be very important to your success. If you love reading, you might be a good fit for the profession. You should also be prepared to work on your writing skills, particularly any detailed analytical writing. If you pursue a degree in paralegal studies, consider a minor in English, History or Philosophy.
Once you assess your competencies, you’ll want to find an accredited program that best suits your career goals. You can pursue one of three academic tracks:
Certificate: A certificate program is a good place to start if you already have either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, but no solid academic paralegal experience. You can also take a certificate course with only a high-school diploma. However, it’s advised that you take a full degree course as more and more employers prefer to hire paralegals with a degree.
Associate’s Degree: A two-year degree is a great way to start your paralegal career, and if you attend an accredited program all your credits will transfer when you decide to pursue your bachelor’s degree later.
Bachelor’s Degree: A four-year degree will prove to your future employers that you are serious about the law and that you have the background to provide invaluable assistance to an attorney. This degree could also prepare you for management roles later.
You probably will want to find some area of specialization for your career. When you are particularly well-versed in an area you become more marketable. For instance, you could study finance and work for corporate attorneys, or apply that learning to wills and trusts. Other specialty areas may include the following:
- Immigration Law
- Tax Law
- Divorce Law
- Family Law
- Patents and Trademark Law
- Labor and Employment Law
National paralegal associations such as the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) administer examinations that will certify you as a paralegal. This is a great way to upgrade your experience with professional, nationally-recognized credentials. Here is the breakdown of the available certifications:
- Paralegal Core Competency Exam–Once you have passed this exam, your resume will stand above the pack. This will verify to an employer that your skills meet a higher standard, and the initiative it takes to study for and pass the exam.
- Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam–After you have passed the PCCE and practiced as a paralegal for a few years, you will want to sit for the PACE. These credentials will tell Indiana firms that you not only have the education, but also the depth of experience it takes to help their firms succeed.
- Certified Paralegal–Once you have passed this exam, you can say that you are certified by the NALA, a designation that holds peer respect.
- Advanced Paralegal Certification–This is the top certification available from NALA and your ability to achieve this credential will demonstrate your dedication to the profession.
You’ll also want to use state associations to find continuing education classes and support networks. Iowa’s State Bar Association offers support to paralegals as does the Iowa Association of Legal Assistants.Paralegals (IALA).
Salary and Job Growth in Iowa
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2019-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook says the median annual salary for paralegals is $49,500. Of those paralegals, the standard entry-level education was an associate’s degree. The BLS also projects that the field will grow by a rate of 15 percent through 2026.
The state of Iowa has a mean annual wage of $47,920. Paralegals who work in cities, such as Des Moines, may earn more due to the cost of living. For example, Des Moines paralegals earned $52,560 and Cedar Rapids paralegals earned a mean annual wage of $50,040.
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