How to Become a Paralegal in Wisconsin
Pursuing a career as a paralegal can be rewarding and successful. There is demand for the skills paralegals have in the Wisconsin legal sector, as they play critical roles in helping legal teams. Knowing what education and skills you need as a paralegal in Wisconsin is critical for preparing for a career in the state.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
Paralegal roles vary by industry and sector. Paralegals for a criminal lawyer will have different tasks than paralegals working in a corporate environment. The general role of paralegals is to be responsible for helping lawyers prepare for meetings, trials and hearings. Paralegals may collect, analyze and organize information for lawyers. Writing reports for lawyers and presenting information may also be job duties. Paralegals act as fact checkers, gathering information about laws, articles, precedents and judicial decisions. Preparation for a trial is often the beginning of a paralegal’s work by preparing legal arguments, motions and pleadings.
Paralegal Education for Wisconsin
Wisconsin does not have regulations or licensing for paralegal education, employment or registration. However, the American Bar Association (ABA) rule of conduct 5.3 requires paralegals be under supervision of an accredited lawyer. Paralegals are not authorized to provide direct legal services to clients, meaning they can’t establish business relationships with clients, set fees, represent a client in court, or give legal advice.
Paralegals usually train on the job, but it is helpful to obtain a college education focused on government, law or industry specialties for corporate paralegals. Most employers prefer candidates with formal paralegal training along with certification. The American Bar Association has approved training programs to provide paralegal qualifications:
- Obtaining formal ABA certification means these programs meet or exceed national standards.
- There are other paralegal programs in Wisconsin, but these do not have ABA credentials.
- Online courses do not qualify for ABA certification. The ABA requires at least ten semester hours of courses in a traditional classroom.
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 knowledge of these topics:
- Legal terminology
- Computer skills for research
- Excellent reading skills
- Good communication skills
- Organizational skills
- Being ethical
- Keeping client interaction private
- Respecting the confidentiality of documents
- Not going beyond your qualifications
Steps to Become a Paralegal in Wisconsin
Get a College Degree
While there are not regulations for paralegal education in Wisconsin, 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 or other courses is not mandatory, but can help you have better employment opportunities. Some other certifications are the Professional Administrative Certification of Excellence (PACE) offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), or certifications from exams such as the Paralegal Core Competency (PCC) offered by National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), the Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal (CLA/CP) offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), and the Professional Paralegal (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 Wisconsin, the three professional organizations are:
- The Paralegal Association of Wisconsin (PAW)
- The Wisconsin Association for Legal Professionals (WALP)
- The Madison Area Paralegal Association (MAPA)
Paralegal Salary and Job Outlook in Wisconsin
The mean annual salary for a paralegal in Wisconsin, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) was $48,120, with the national median salary being $49,500.
Paralegal salaries may vary depending upon years of experience in the field, education attained and location, says the BLS. For example, paralegals working in Milwaukee earned a mean annual wage of $53,160.
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