How to Become a Paralegal in Tennessee
Pursuing a career as a paralegal can be a rewarding endeavor. There is demand for the skills paralegals have in the legal and corporate sectors and the job growth for the field is good. Paralegals play critical roles in helping legal teams successfully argue cases on behalf of their clients. Knowing what education and skills you need as a paralegal in Tennessee is essential for pursuing a career in the legal sector or in the corporate sector.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
Paralegal roles vary by industry and specialty. Paralegals for a criminal lawyer will have different tasks than paralegals working in a corporation. The general role of paralegals is to be responsible for helping lawyers prepare for meetings, trials, and hearings.
Paralegals may also perform these types of duties:
- Collect, analyze and organize information for lawyers
- Write reports for lawyers
- Present information to attorneys and stakeholders
- Fact check reports and statements for accuracy
- Gather information about laws, articles, precedents and judicial decisions
Preparing for a trial is often the beginning of a paralegal’s work during a civil or criminal case. Paralegals help prepare legal arguments, motions and pleadings.
Paralegal Education for Tennessee
Tennessee does not have licensing requirements for paralegal education, employment or registration, however, it is helpful for paralegals to take courses in government, law or industry specialties. Tennessee does not regulate its paralegals, which allows paralegals to enter the profession with on-the-job training or education. It’s also true, however, that more and more employers are asking that paralegals they hire complete a degree program and obtain professional certification.
Personal Qualities of a Paralegal
A good education is important, but personal qualifications matter in being successful. Paralegals should have basic understanding of the law including legal terminology, but other skills such as computer skills for research, excellent reading skills, communication skills, and organizational skills are useful. Being ethical is essential. Keeping client interaction private, respecting the confidentiality of documents, and not going beyond your qualifications are ethics paralegals should practice.
Steps to Become a Paralegal in Tennessee
Get a College Degree
While there are not regulations for paralegal education in Tennessee, a college degree is useful in understanding your industry or legal sector. This is especially true if you are planning to work as a corporate paralegal where specialized knowledge of an industry is necessary.
Accreditation through the American Bar Association from an ABA or other courses is not mandatory, but can help you have better employment choices and success. Some other certifications, which often are available based upon where you are in your paralegal career, include these:
- PACE offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- PCC offered by National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- CLA/CP offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- PP offered by the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS)
Obtain Certification in Specialties
A paralegal with a general certification will earn less pay than a paralegal with a specialized certification. Some specializations you can earn as a paralegal are, in addition to the ABA paralegal certification, nurse or medical paralegal, family law, immigration and litigation certification.
Keep up with Credentials
Join professional organizations and pursue continuing education through online and university courses. Continuing education is a condition of keeping your professional credentials current. Subscribing to paralegal magazines such as Litigation Support Today and trade magazines specific to your industry can help you stay abreast of changing paralegal regulations and industry requirements.
Nationally, the National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc. (NALA), or the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) are resources for paralegals. In Tennessee, the trade associations for paralegals are the Smoky Mountain Paralegal Association, the Memphis Paralegal Association (MPA), and the Tennessee Paralegal Association.
Obtain professional experience as a paralegal under the direction of a qualified lawyer. This is a requirement from the American Bar Association under the ABA Rules of Professional Conduct 5.3.
Paralegal Salary and Job Outlook in Tennessee
The annual median salary for paralegals on a national scale is $49,500 says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In Tennessee, according to data from the BLS, the mean annual wage is also $49,500.
Paralegal job growth in Tennessee will be robust and should increase by 20 percent through 2026, which is much higher than the national average for paralegal careers: 15 percent for the same time frame.
Paralegals may find more opportunity and higher salaries in metropolitan areas; the BLS states that the mean annual wage for paralegals in Nashville, for example, is $54,610. Salaries may also depend upon years of experience in the field and the level of education attained.
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