How to Become a Paralegal in Missouri
Paralegals work in a support capacity for lawyers. Just as attorneys do, paralegals usually specialize in a certain area of law and their daily activities reflect that specialty.
Typical tasks include conducting research on specific regulations and laws, taking statements and affidavits, maintaining and organizing documents, arranging and gathering evidence for review, and summarizing reports.
Although Missouri doesn’t require certification to become a paralegal it is usually a requirement for job applicants. The same holds true for education; although a degree is not required almost half of all paralegals hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. To compete for the most desirable positions you should plan on both earning your degree and passing national certification requirements.
Steps to Become a Paralegal
There are certain steps you should take if you plan to become a paralegal in Missouri. Here’s a short list of what you should do:
Choose a specialty.
Just as lawyers focus on a certain aspect of the law, the paralegals they hire should correspond with their knowledge base.
Complete your degree.
While under 20 percent of paralegals hold an associate’s degree nearly half have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. It makes sense to do the extra training so you qualify for the better positions.
Although it’s not required by the state, most employers hire paralegals who have taken the initiative to be certified in their field.
Complete an internship.
This is often a requirement of your degree; if it’s not, try to seek an internship with a legal aid office or law firm so you have experience in the field.
Apply for entry-level positions.
Once you earn your degree you’ll still need experience and an entry-level job will give you that. Once you work for a year or two you’ll have the confidence to apply for your dream job as a paralegal.
Paralegal Education Requirements in Missouri
Missouri doesn’t have a minimum educational requirement to become a paralegal but most employers do. Because this is a competitive field you should plan on earning your bachelor’s degree in order stay competitive and to qualify for the better positions.
Just because Missouri doesn’t require paralegals to hold a license or certification it doesn’t mean employers don’t choose to hire those who have become certified. Certification shows you are proficient in your paralegal education and skills. By passing the exam given by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) you can demonstrate your proficiency of paralegal knowledge. NALA offers credentials for beginner paralegals and advanced paralegal certification for those who have worked in the field longer.
You should also earn continuing education units after becoming certified as these will keep your certification designation valid, and besides, the field of law changes and amends regulations constantly. You should stay abreast of changes in laws in your specialty.
Paralegals in Missouri earn slightly less than the national average and the job growth projection is slightly lower too, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2019-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook. Here are the median annual salaries of Missouri paralegals; keep in mind those in the higher wage tier are typically those with higher education and more experience:
Lowest 10 percent:
Median 10 percent:
Highest 10 percent:
Working in larger cities can help salaries, as can years of experience. For example, a paralegal working in St. Louis can expect to earn a mean annual wage of $50,000 says the BLS.
Career Opportunities in Missouri
The majority of paralegals in Missouri work in either the Kansas City or the St. Louis metropolitan area. As in most of the country law firms are the biggest employer of paralegals, but jobs are also available at insurance agencies, financial institutions, and government offices. Corporations also employing paralegals in Missouri may include Emerson Electric, Express Scripts Holding and Centrene, which are all based in the state.
Once you enroll in a paralegal program you should plan to join at least one professional association dedicated to your career field. Here are three that are located in Missouri:
- Missouri Paralegal Association: This organization is state-wide and offers events and meetings as well as networking opportunities.
- St. Louis Paralegal Association: This group promotes professional and ethical standards within the field, networking, a job bank, and a mentorship program.
- Kansas City Paralegal Association: Offers continuing education, professional development, events, and regular meetings for networking.
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