How to Become a Paralegal in Washington D.C.
For such a small area, Washington D.C. employs a huge number of paralegals, which makes sense considering it’s the hub of our federal government. Still, you’ll need to be at the top of your game to be a practicing paralegal in D.C. as it’s a highly competitive market. In the district, as in other states in the country, paralegals perform a wide range of duties in support of attorneys. While the specific duties will depend upon the specialty of the law firm the paralegal works for, typical chores will include the following:
- Investigate the facts of a case
- Conduct research on regulations and laws, compile and organize documents
- Summarize reports and handle note taking, evidence and transcripts during a court session
In Washington D.C. there are no certification requirements to work as a paralegal but because this is a specialized career area you should plan on earning at least an Associate’s degree and certification in order to be competitive for the more desirable positions. The majority of paralegals hold at least a Bachelor’s degree.
Steps to Become a Paralegal
To become a paralegal in D.C. there are certain steps you should take to ensure your success in the field. Here’s a short list of what you’ll need to do:
Choose a specialty
Because there are so many different types of law you’ll need to choose a concentration, much the same as attorneys do.
Complete your paralegal education
Although no specific degree is required to become a paralegal most who are employed in this field hold at least a bachelor’s degree.
Even though district and state law do not require formal professional certification, most employers will.
Do an internship
Often part of your degree work, an internship will give you experience in the field and boost your chances of employment.
Apply for entry level positions
Once you graduate you can begin working as a paralegal and learn the ins and outs of working at a corporation or law firm. Once you have experience you’ll qualify for more interesting and lucrative positions.
Paralegal Education Requirements in Washington D.C.
The competition is strong in Washington D.C. and those with the proper education will have first choice at the best positions. Over 37 percent of paralegals in D.C. hold at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 18 percent who hold only an associate’s degree and 27 percent who have some college credits but no degree.
Although there is no law stating a paralegal in D.C. must be certified and their are no laws regulating paralegals, most corporations and bigger law firms use it as a hiring criterion. This means many paralegals who aren’t certified probably won’t make the cut for an interview, so becoming professionally certified will give you the greatest advantage in the job market. The CLA/CP exam given by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) or a similar exam will show you are knowledgeable in your field. To ensure you stay abreast of regulation updates and current laws you’ll need to earn continuing education units to keep your certifications valid.
Paralegals in Washington D.C. earn considerably more than those in other states. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2019-19 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) says the mean annual wage for D.C. paralegals is $76,620 compared to the median national average of $49,500.
You’ll want to consider the higher cost of living in D.C., which may account for higher salaries, but years of experience and your education level may also play a part in higher wages.
The BLS says jobs for paralegals should increase by 15 percent through the year 2026, and that’s higher than the national average for all other occupations, adding 41,800 paralegal jobs over the next decade nationally.
Career Opportunities for Paralegals in Washington D.C.
As the center for national government, Washington D.C. has a wide range of employment opportunities for paralegals. Besides the many major law firms with offices in the District many paralegals are employed by national corporations such as Pepco, Danaher and Fannie Mae. Government agencies and insurance groups are other examples of paralegal employment in Washington D.C.
Final Steps: Paralegal Associations in Washington D.C. and Continuing Education
Once you earn your degree and pass the certification exam you’ll want to join associations that are centered on your paralegal profession. Once you are employed you may be required to take continuing education classes specific to your employer’s specialty, and paralegal associations are the perfect place to find information on education. Here are two groups you should join:
The National Capital Area Paralegal Association (NCAPA) is a voluntary, non-profit organization composed of paralegals interested in furthering their professional development, and we are dedicated to the advancement of the paralegal profession. NCAPA was formed in 1974 by paralegals living or working in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area in response to the growing need for an organized professional association for paralegals.
The National Capital Area Paralegal Association (NCAPA) helps develop professional development and advancement as well as offering continuing education information and a networking opportunity with others in the paralegal profession.
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