Becoming a Paralegal in Pennsylvania – PA
Accounting for one-quarter of all legal professionals in the state, Pennsylvania employs over 9,000 paralegals according to the 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics employment survey. While paralegals are employed throughout Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Pittsburg have the greatest concentrations of paralegal jobs. In fact, Philadelphia has the seventh highest employment level of paralegals in the nation.
Pennsylvania’s paralegals are not required by law to obtain set standards of training or education prior to entering the profession. However, voluntary certification is available through the Keystone Alliance of Paralegal Associations (KAPA). The Pennsylvania Certified Paralegal Credential (PaCP) Program was developed to set a benchmark for paralegal qualifications and to demonstrate paralegals’ commitment to continued learning within their field. Certification requires that paralegals meet education and experience guidelines. PaCPs must renew their certification every two years after completing continuing legal education (CLE) hours.
Under Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court Rule 5.3, attorneys must directly supervise paralegals, including providing them with guidance in matters of ethics and confidentiality. Attorneys are also responsible for the professional conduct of their paralegal employees. Paralegals are prohibited from representing themselves as professional that are able to legally advise the public or able to deliver legal services independently of attorney supervision.
*Accredited online paralegal and legal studies programs put an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree well within reach:
Is There Paralegal Certification in Pennsylvania?
Although it is not required in Pennsylvania, growing numbers of aspiring paralegals are choosing educational programs in paralegal studies. Not only can a degree or certificate help distinguish job candidates in a competitive job market, they can also prepare paralegals to become Pennsylvania Certified Paralegal (PaCPs) or nationally certified paralegals. Employers, KAPA, and the national paralegal associations offering certification may desire that a paralegal studies program or degree be earned from an accredited institution or that is American Bar Association (ABA) approved. It is important to research these criteria before selecting a program.
- 2011 mean income for paralegals in Pennsylvania: $51,720
- November 2008, Keystone Alliance’s Pennsylvania Certified Paralegal credential program rolled out
- Governor Corbett proclaimed July 23 – 30, 2012 paralegal week
The educational requirements for becoming a PaCP are:
- A bachelor s degree in paralegal studies from paralegal program that is ABA approved and one year of substantive work experience as a paralegal
- A bachelor s degree in any subject from an accredited educational institution and a completion of a certificate program or associate degree in paralegal studies from an ABA-approved program, and one year of substantive work experience as a paralegal
- A bachelor s degree in any subject from an accredited educational institution and three years of substantive work experience as a paralegal
- An associate degree in paralegal studies and five years of substantive work experience as a paralegal
- A certificate from a paralegal certificate program and five years of substantive work experience as a paralegal
- National certification as a CLA, CP or RP or other paralegal certification recognized by the Keystone Alliance of Paralegal Associations and two years of substantive work experience as a paralegal
Although the two terms are similar, paralegal certificates and paralegal certification are two separate designations. Certificates are earned by completing a paralegal certificate educational program. Upon successfully finishing the program of study, a paralegal receives a certificate of completion and becomes a certificated paralegal.
Paralegals who meet eligibility requirements and who pass one of the certification exams offered by the national paralegal associations become certified paralegals. Currently the three professional organizations offer four national exams from which to select:
Requirements for the national exams differ between the three national paralegal organizations. A comparison can be found here. The PaCP program recognizes national certification as a means of becoming state certified.
Pennsylvania is home to many smaller paralegal associations that are part of a larger alliance known as the Keystone Alliance of Paralegal Associations (KAPA). Through KAPA, over 1,400 paralegals have representation in state and national conversations about paralegals, access to information exchanges with other state and national organizations, and working relationships with others in the legal community. KAPA also developed and manages the Pennsylvania Certified Paralegal Credential (PaCP) program.
Member associations of KAPA include: the Bucks County Paralegal Association, the Central Pennsylvania Paralegal Association, the Lancaster Area Paralegal Association, the Lycoming County Paralegal Association, the Montgomery County Paralegal Association, the Philadelphia Association of Paralegals, the Pittsburgh Paralegal Association, and the York County Paralegal Association. These regional associations provide networking opportunities, continuing legal education (CLE) and professional development, job resources, mentoring programs and social events to their members. Groups range in size from 30 members to 500 members depending on the region. Students, educators and active paralegals may join a regional association in the area where they live or work.
Law firms often hire entry-level paralegals and can be good places to begin a career. The metro-Philadelphia and Pittsburg areas are home to many large law firms, including:
- Eckert Seamans Cherin and Mellott
- KandL Gates
- Reed Smith
- Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney
- White and Williams
- Drinker Biddle and Reath
- Blank Rome
- Saul Ewing
- Pepper Hamilton
- Stradley Ronon Stevens and Young
- Morgan, Lewis and Bockius
- Fox Rothschild
- Schnader Harrison Segal and Lewis
- Cozen O Connor
- Duane Morris
- Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman and Goggin
- Ballard Spahr