How to Become a Paralegal in Washington
Pursuing a career as a paralegal in Washington can be rewarding if you have the time and resources to pursue the right education and certification. There is demand for the skills paralegals have in the legal sector, and paralegals play critical roles in helping legal teams with preparation for trials and depositions. Knowing what education and skills you need is essential for success in the field.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
Washington state is home to several high profile law firms and you can bet competition for jobs is fierce in metropolitan areas such as Seattle. As such, the paralegal role varies by industry and sector. Paralegals for criminal lawyers will have different tasks than paralegals working in a corporate environment.
However, the general role of a paralegal is the same: they’re responsible for helping lawyers prepare for meetings, trials, and hearings. The paralegal may collect, analyze, organize and distribute information through paper documents and electronic data.
Writing reports for lawyers, organizing information and presenting this information may be part of a paralegal’s role. Paralegals act as fact checkers with gathering information about laws, articles, precedents and judicial decisions. Paralegals often help prepare legal arguments, motions and pleadings.
Washington is experimenting with Limited License Legal Technicians that can consult and advise, complete and file court documents, help with court scheduling and support clients navigating through the legal system in cases such as divorce, child custody and other family-law matters.
Paralegal Education Requirements for Washington State
Washington state does not have regulations for paralegal education, employment and licensure. A college education focused on government, law or industry specialties is useful for employment. Paralegals cannot, under the American Bar Association rule of conduct 5.3, offer services to clients but must work under the supervision of qualified attorneys.
Most employers prefer candidates with formal paralegal training. The American Bar Association (ABA) has approved paralegal training programs in Washington state to provide qualifications. Other paralegal programs in Washington state do not have credentials from the ABA and online courses do not qualify for ABA certification. The ABA requires at least ten semester hours of courses in a traditional classroom.
Limited License Legal Technicians Requirements in the State of Washington:
- An associate’s degree or higher
- 45 credit hours through a legal program approved by the American Bar Association or the LLLT Board
- Applicable practice area courses in family law through the University of Washington School of Law
- 3,000 hours of paralegal experience involving substantial legal work in any practice area under the supervision of a lawyer
- Take and pass the Practice Area and Professional Responsibility Exams
- Fulfill other licensing requirements
- Maintain malpractice insurance
- Maintain a physical address in the state
Personal Qualities of a Paralegal
Having a good education is important to being a paralegal, but personal qualifications matter in being successful. A paralegal should have a basic understanding of the law, but have other skills too. Here are some skills for success:
- Computer skills for research
- Excellent reading skills
- Good communication skills
- Organizational skills
Keeping client interaction private, respecting the confidentiality of documents and not going beyond your qualifications as a paralegal are essential for being an ethical paralegal.
Steps to Become a Paralegal in Washington State
Get a College Degree
While there are not regulations for paralegal education in Washington state, a college degree is useful in understanding the industry or setting in which you will work.
Obtain a Paralegal Accreditation
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 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 specialized certification. Some specializations you can earn as a paralegal are, in addition to the ABA paralegal certification, bankruptcy, family law, immigration, and litigation.
Keep up with Credentials
Join professional organizations and pursue continuing education through online and university courses. Subscribing to paralegal magazines such as Paralegal Today and trade magazines specific to your industry can help you stay current with 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 Washington state, the Association of Paralegals and Legal Assistants of Washington St (NALA), the Columbia Basin Paralegal Association (NALA), and the Washington State Paralegal Association (NFPA) are helpful organizations for aspiring paralegals.
Paralegal Salary and Job Outlook in Washington State
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary for a paralegal in Washington state is $59,590.
Paralegals in metropolitan areas such as Seattle and Bellevue earned higher salaries of $64,810—which are among the highest in the nation, although the cost of living is also considerably higher.
The job forecast for Washington state is robust, and a projected growth of 17.1 percent (compared to the national average of 15 percent) is forecast for paralegals through 2026.
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