How to Become a Paralegal in Virginia
While a paralegal is not a lawyer, they do have core knowledge of the court system and areas of law. They help lawyers with the foundational work needed to pursue cases, such as research, drafting documents and memos and interviewing clients. Paralegals may be hired by individuals or organizations such as these:
- Law offices
- Legal departments in corporations
- Governmental agencies
What Does a Paralegal Do?
Depending on place of employment, paralegal roles vary by industry. Criminal law work requires different skills or duties than corporation work, for example. The general role of paralegals is to be responsible for helping lawyers prepare for meetings, trials, and hearings. Other paralegal duties may include:
- Collect, analyze and organize information for lawyers.
- Gather information and research to prepare reports, arguments, motions or pleadings.
- Study laws, articles, precedents or judicial decisions to help prepare for cases.
Paralegal Education for Virginia
Virginia does not have licensing requirements for paralegal education, employment or registration, but it is helpful for paralegals to take courses in government, law or industry specialties. While it is possible to enter the paralegal profession with on-the-job training, the Virginia Alliance of Paralegal Associations (VAPA) has created guidelines to help employers determine the qualifications of paralegals. These guidelines are:
- Graduation from an American Bar Association (ABA) approved program or a similar program of equal rigor. The ABA offers certification for paralegals in Virginia.
- Obtain a Paralegal Accreditation: Accreditation through the American Bar Association or other courses is not mandatory, but it does mean higher employment eligibility. Additionally, you can receive certification through other organizations and exams. Consider being certified through:
- Professional Administrative Certification of Excellence (PACE) offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- Paralegal Core (PCC) offered by National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal (CLA/CP) offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- Professional Paralegal (PP) offered by the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS)
- Earn national certification from a program recognized by VAPA.
- Completion of a bachelor’s degree in any field with at least 24 semester hours of paralegal studies courses, or one year of work experience as a paralegal.
- Completion of an associate’s degree with a minimum of 60 semester credit hours and at least 24 of these in paralegal coursework.
- At least five years of work experience as a paralegal under the direct supervision of an attorney, according to the ABA Rules of Professional Conduct 5.3.
Traits of a Paralegal
Paralegals should have basic understanding of the law. It’s important to have some expertise in the following areas, and these particular skillsets:
- Legal terminology understanding
- Computer skills for research
- Excellent reading skills
- Communication skills
- Organizational skills are useful
- Being ethical is essential
- Keeping client interaction private, respecting the confidentiality of documents
- Not going beyond your qualifications
How to Become a Paralegal in Virginia
Get a College Degree
While there are not regulations for paralegal education in Virginia, a college degree is useful in understanding your industry or legal sector.
While accreditation through the American Bar Association is not mandatory, it can help you have better employment choices and success.
Obtain Certification in Specialties
In some cases, having specialized certification can yield higher pay than general certification. If you decide to specialize in an area of law, you can study to be a nurse or medical paralegal, family law, immigration, or litigation paralegal.
Keep up with Credentials
It’s always prudent to enhance your education and keep up with the industry. You can continue your education or strengthen your credentials by doing the following:
- Join professional organizations
- Pursue continuing education through online and university courses
- Subscribe to paralegal magazines or trade magazines specific to your industry
- Join a national organization like the National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc. (NALA), or the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) are resources for paralegals
- Join a regional organization like the Virginia Alliance of Paralegal Associations or the Paralegal Association of Northern Virginia
Obtain professional experience as a paralegal under the direction of a qualified lawyer.
Paralegal Salary in Virginia
Compared to the national median paralegal salary, $49,500, the mean annual salary for a paralegal in Virginia, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is $52,640.
Salaries are frequently determined by years of experience in the field, level of education attained and location, says the BLS. As an example, the annual mean salary for the Washington DC-Arlington-Alexandria metropolitan area is $70,590, which is considerably higher than the average for the entire nation. Richmond paralegals earned $50,400.
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