Paralegal Education in West Virginia
West Virginia sponsors a healthy paralegal population: over 2,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2011 survey, with Charleston having the highest concentration of any metropolitan area across the 50 states. As with most states, the field is continuing to expand and will until 2018 if not beyond, opening a good 250,000 more jobs in the paraprofessional community.
A paralegal, also called a legal assistant, enjoys a dynamic career field full of changing tasks and new challenges. Under the Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3, a paralegal works under the supervision of a practicing attorney who provides instruction on professional ethics, conduct and takes responsibility for any misconduct or unprofessionalism displayed by their assistant. A paralegal is able to perform substantive legal duties but must not 1)misrepresent himself as a lawyer 2)give legal advice 3)charge hourly compensation for time spent on tasks, and 4) cannot represent a client in court. Otherwise, paralegals can perform most of the same responsibilities of a lawyer and much more inexpensively, though still making excellent wages. This works to the benefit of the employer and the paralegal, explaining why legal assistants are currently so in demand.
|In USD as of Mar 12, 2013 (source: indeed.com)||30k||60k||90k|
|Paralegal in West Virginia $47,000|
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Breaking in to the Field
Except in California, the field of the paraprofessional is largely on its own in terms of educational standards meaning there are no set requirements as to what kind of background an aspiring paralegal must have. Anyone can become a paraprofessional regardless if educational history though certainly a formal education is preferred over non at all. Still, on the job training is still acceptable and only hampers receiving the title of Certified Paralegal by prerequisites needed for the national exams. With the growing competition, it is highly recommended the hopeful legal assistant undertake at least a two year course for an Associates degree before fully immersing in the field, but it’s not mandatory.
To become a certificated paralegal, one only need hold a certificate of course completion in paralegal studies or equivalent; basically an Associate’s degree, a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree, a Juris Doctorate or a Post-Baccalaureate certificate. In order to hold the coveted and appreciated title of Certified Paralegal, the hopeful must sit for and pass on of four national exams sponsored by one of three national paralegal associations:
Requirements per exam vary, so refer to the chart beforehand. These exams and their sponsors are:
- The PP offered by the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS)
- The PACE offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The PCC also offered by National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The CLA/CP offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
Seeking Halls of Higher Learning
Where you go to school can matter a great deal: it’s strongly suggested that the aspiring paralegal chooses a university, community college or proprietary college that is both ABA approved and accredited. These terms can sometimes cause confusion and may even be used interchangeably but they are very different. An accredited school is always more marketable than a non-accredited school. Many employers will not bother to recognize a school without accreditation in any field. To be accredited means to be recognized by a private, regional or national educational authority as being an institute with adequate delivery of instruction and above average course content. It means, in essence, the way the school is taught and what it teaches is actually educational.
The ABA, or American Bar Association, is one of the largest voluntary professional associations in the world, recognized as an authority on all things legal. It has put together a criteria against which it measures legal programs and, if found to match the rigor and educational content the ABA deems necessary for a paralegal to possess, they award the course their approval. These two items -approval and accreditation- can be very important when employers consider bonuses, raises and advancement of legal assistants. It is recommended the aspiring paralegal seeks to fill both criteria when choosing a school. The state of West Virginia has one ABA approved school within its borders:
Mountwest Community & Technical College (f.k.a. Marshall Community & Technical College) is a college in Huntington that offers a two year AA degree in a Legal Assistant Program.
Local Law Firms
Hardly limited to law firms in which to work, a paralegal has a choice of locations though for entry-level and immediate work experience, law firms are a great starting point. Many school and some associations will help with job placement, but you can always do your own job search too. Below is a short list of major law firms in West Virginia worthy of some consideration.
949 Third Avenue
Huntington, WV 25701
Phone: (304) 529-2868
Fax: (304) 529-2999
Bailey & Glasser LLP
209 Capitol Street
Charleston, WV 25301
2855 Cranberry Square
Morgantown, WV 26508
Huddleston Bolen LLP
707 Virginia St. E.,
Suite 1300 P.O. BOX 3786
Charleston, WV 25337
Phone: (304) 344-9869
611 Third Avenue
Huntington, WV 25701
Phone: (304) 529-6181
Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown & Poe, PLLC
901 Quarrier Street
Charleston, West Virginia 25301-2607
600 Neville Street
Beckley, West Virginia 25801
261 Aikens Center, Suite 301
Martinsburg, West Virginia 25404
2414 Cranberry Square
Morgantown, West Virginia 26508
Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott
214 Capitol Street
Charleston, WV 25301
Zimmer Kunz, PLLC
1280 Suncrest Towne Centre
Morgantown, WV 26505
Phone: (304) 292-8531
Fax: (304) 292-7529
Resource Links for Paralegals
- NALA affiliated Legal Assistants/Paralegals of Southern West Virginia (LAPSWV)
- The West Virginia State Bar
- The West Virginia Secretary of State
- West Virginia Judiciary
- The West Virginia Bar Association – Legal Assistant Division
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