How to Become a Paralegal in West Virginia
Pursuing a career as a paralegal can be a rewarding experience. There is demand for the skills paralegals have in the legal sector, and paralegals play critical roles in helping legal teams. Knowing what education you need for becoming a paralegal in West Virginia is essential before you enroll in a program.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
The role of a paralegal varies by the area of specialty chosen. Paralegals for a criminal lawyer will perform different work and research than paralegals working in a corporate environment. However, the basic duties will remain the same no matter what specialty is chosen:
- Help lawyers prepare for meetings, trials and hearings
- Collect, analyze and organize information
- Write reports and present collected information
- Act as fact checkers with gathering information about laws, articles, precedents and judicial decisions
- Prepare for trial by forming legal arguments, motions and pleadings
Paralegal Education for West Virginia
West Virginia does not have regulations or licensing for paralegal employment. However, the American Bar Association rule of conduct 5.3 requires that a paralegal be under supervision of an accredited lawyer to practice as a paralegal. Paralegals are not licensed to provide direct legal services to clients. They cannot establish business relationships with clients, set fees, represent a client in court, or give legal advice.
Paralegals usually train on the job, but a college education focused on government, law or industry specialties for corporate paralegals is useful. Most employers prefer candidates with formal paralegal training along with certification. The American Bar Association (ABA) has approved paralegal training programs in West Virginia to provide qualifications as a paralegal.
Obtaining formal ABA certification means these programs meet or exceed national standards for paralegal education. There are other paralegal programs in West Virginia, but these do not have credentials from the ABA. Online courses do not qualify for ABA certification because the ABA requires at least ten semester hours of courses in a traditional classroom.
Personal Qualities of a Paralegal
Having a good education is important, but personal qualifications matter in being successful. A paralegal should have a basic understanding of the law including legal terminology, but have other skills such as the following:
- Computer skills for research
- Excellent reading skills
- Good communication and organizational skills
Strong ethics are also important. Keeping client interaction private, respecting the confidentiality of documents, and not going beyond your qualifications are essential for being an ethical paralegal.
Steps to Become a Paralegal in West Virginia
Get a College Degree
While there are not regulations for paralegal education in West Virginia, 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, nurse or medical paralegal, family law, immigration and litigation.
Keep up with Credentials
Join professional organizations; pursue continuing education through online and university courses. Subscribing to paralegal magazines such as Litigation Support 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 West Virginia, the Legal Assistants/Paralegals of Southern West (LAPSWV) is an organizational resource.
Paralegal Salary and Job Outlook in West Virginia
The mean annual salary for a paralegal in West Virginia, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2019-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook, is lower than the national median average of $49,500, with annual salary cited at $44,040.
Salary often depends upon years of experience and education level, as well as where you work. For example, a metropolitan area such as Charleston pays a higher annual mean wage of $47,990.
West Virginia’s job growth for paralegals rests at 11.9 percent through 2026, which is lower the national average of 15 percent.
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