Are you considering a rewarding career in the legal field? The paralegal profession in Iowa offers exciting opportunities for growth and development. With a variety of educational programs and a thriving job market, Iowa has become an attractive destination for aspiring paralegals. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps on how to become a paralegal in Iowa and provide valuable insights into the legal assistant job description, essential skills, and employment opportunities in the state.
What you’re about to learn in this guide:
Iowa encourages voluntary certification and educational degrees for paralegals.
The ABA Approved Programs in Iowa provide comprehensive education, resources, and experience.
Paralegals in Iowa can expect competitive salaries with job growth potential through certifications and professional development.
Iowa Paralegal Certification and Education
Although not required, paralegal certification in Iowa is strongly advised for individuals aspiring to succeed in this field. In 2003, the Iowa Supreme Court declared that paralegals should obtain voluntary national certification through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). This would be beneficial for them. Pursuing certification and enrolling in an American Bar Association (ABA) endorsed program enables development of the essential skills and knowledge for success in the legal profession.
Aspiring paralegals in Iowa have various options for paralegal education, including:
Master’s degrees in paralegal studies
The Iowa Western Community College, for instance, offers an associate degree in Paralegal Studies, emphasizing ethics, legal research, and writing. Choosing a balanced mix of experience and education paves the way for a thriving paralegal career in Iowa.
National Certification Exams
To certify as a paralegal, you have a choice of four exams offered by three national paralegal associations. These examinations enable you to demonstrate your expertise in the field of paralegal studies. The preferred exam in Iowa is the Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal (CLA/CP) exam offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). Passing this exam will grant you the Certified Paralegal (CP) status, which is highly regarded by law firms and legal professionals in the state.
Another option is the Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) status, which can be achieved by completing at least one online course. Obtaining national certification illustrates your commitment to the paralegal profession and bolsters your credibility among potential employers. Moreover, certification helps you stay updated with the latest developments in the legal field and ensures you have the necessary skills to perform paralegal duties effectively.
American Bar Association (ABA) Approved Programs
Iowa offers several ABA-approved paralegal programs that provide a solid foundation for aspiring paralegals. These programs cover various aspects of the legal field, such as legal theory, substantive law, and practical skills required to excel in a law firm or other legal settings. Institutions like Grand View University, Iowa Lakes Community College, and Des Moines Area Community College offer degrees in liberal studies with a paralegal concentration or paralegal studies.
In addition to classroom learning, students in ABA-approved programs have access to:
College law libraries
Legal research databases like Westlaw and Lexis
Practical experience through internships and real cases via the Innocence Project of Iowa
These resources help students hone their legal research skills and gain practical experience, preparing them for successful paralegal careers in Iowa or even for pursuing further education at a law school.
Choosing the Right Paralegal Program in Iowa
The choice of a suitable paralegal program significantly impacts your future success in the field. When choosing a program, consider factors such as program format, tuition, and accreditation.
Iowa offers a variety of paralegal programs, including:
Kirkwood’s Paralegal Studies program
DMACC’s Paralegal Program
Grand View University’s Paralegal Studies program
Iowa Lakes Community College’s Paralegal & Legal Studies program
Iowa Western Community College’s Paralegal Associate Degrees program
A careful evaluation of your options and consideration of factors such as program format, tuition, and accreditation will guide you to a program that best aligns with your needs and career aspirations. Keep in mind that completing an ABA-approved program and obtaining national certification will enhance your credibility and increase your chances of securing a rewarding paralegal position in Iowa.
Campus-Based Paralegal Programs
Campus-based paralegal programs in Iowa provide students with a structured learning environment and opportunities for face-to-face interaction with instructors and peers. Institutions such as:
Grand View University
Iowa Lakes Community College
Des Moines Area Community College
Iowa Western Community College
Kirkwood Community College
offer campus-based paralegal programs. These programs cover essential legal topics and skills required to excel in the paralegal profession.
Scholarships like the Bradley & Riley PC Legal Assistant/Paralegal Scholarship, available for Kirkwood Community College students, can help cover the cost of your studies. Attending a campus-based program offers benefits such as a supportive learning environment, practical experience, and networking opportunities with fellow students and legal professionals.
Online and Hybrid Paralegal Programs
Online and hybrid paralegal programs offer flexibility for students with busy schedules or distance constraints. Several institutions in Iowa that offer online and hybrid paralegal programs include:
Grand View University
Iowa Lakes Community College
Kirkwood Community College
Des Moines Area Community College
These programs allow you to complete your coursework at your own pace, while still providing a comprehensive education in paralegal studies.
Some online and hybrid programs also include a legal practicum, giving students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience performing paralegal duties in a law office or legal department. This practical experience, combined with the flexibility of online learning, makes online and hybrid programs an attractive option for aspiring paralegals in Iowa.
Paralegal Careers and Job Opportunities in Iowa
Paralegals in Iowa can find employment in a variety of settings, including law firms, corporations, and government agencies. In 2015, there were 2,310 paralegals or legal assistants employed in the state. With an estimated job growth rate of 22.2% through 2024, the paralegal profession offers promising prospects for those seeking a rewarding career in the legal field.
To find job postings for paralegals in Iowa, you can explore the following websites:
Additionally, the Iowa Paralegal Association provides a platform for attorneys to post job openings for paralegals, offering valuable networking opportunities for professionals in the state.
Law Firm Employment
Many Iowa paralegals work in law firms located in cities such as Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Sioux City, and Iowa City. Working in a law firm offers numerous benefits, including the opportunity to develop expertise in multiple legal disciplines and collaborate with seasoned attorneys and other legal professionals.
As a paralegal in a law firm, your responsibilities may encompass researching legal matters, assembling legal documents, conversing with clients, and aiding attorneys in trial preparation. To excel in a law firm setting, you must possess strong research and writing abilities, as well as a comprehensive understanding of legal terminology and processes.
Other Employment Opportunities
Paralegals can also find work in related professions, such as paralegal positions in:
Legal assistants, who provide support to attorneys by researching legal documents, preparing legal documents, and organizing client files.
Legal secretaries, who offer administrative assistance to attorneys, including filing documents, arranging meetings, and organizing client records.
Claims adjusters, who investigate insurance claims and determine the appropriate amount of compensation to be paid to the claimant.
Exploring these alternative career paths can widen your job prospects and help identify the perfect fit for your skills and interests. Remember, the key to success in any of these professions is a strong foundation in paralegal education and certification.
Essential Skills for Paralegals in Iowa
To excel in the paralegal profession, you must possess a range of essential skills. These skills can be assessed through a paralegal core competency exam, which may include:
Strong organizational skills
Analytical and critical thinking skills
Technical writing skills
Attention to detail
Refining these skills enables you to effectively support attorneys and contribute to the success of your law firm or legal department.
Continuing education and professional development can help you sharpen these essential skills and stay current in the legal field. As you progress in your paralegal career, you will find that these skills not only enhance your job performance but also open up new opportunities for growth and advancement.
Iowa Paralegal Associations and Networking
Joining the Iowa Paralegal Association (IPA) can provide valuable networking and educational opportunities for paralegals in the state. The IPA offers resources such as:
Support for members preparing to take the NALA CLA/CP exam
Networking opportunities with the Iowa State Bar Association to discuss regulation and other legal matters of interest to paralegal professionals.
Membership in the IPA allows you to connect with other legal professionals, stay abreast of the latest developments in the field, and boost your career prospects. Remember, networking plays a crucial role in securing job opportunities and advancing your paralegal career.
Salaries and Job Outlook for Paralegals in Iowa
The paralegal profession in Iowa offers competitive salaries and promising job prospects. In 2015, the Iowa Department of Labor reported an average annual salary of $46,990 for paralegals. This was across the entire state. With an estimated job growth rate of 22.2% through 2024 and an average of 230 openings for paralegals available in the state annually over the forthcoming years, it’s evident that Iowa is an attractive destination for aspiring paralegals.
Pursuing certification, graduating from an ABA-approved program, and continually seeking professional development can amplify your earning potential and improve your career prospects in Iowa’s thriving paralegal job market.
Gaining Experience: Internships and Volunteering
Participating in internships and volunteering opportunities can help aspiring paralegals gain practical experience and build their professional network. Some internships and volunteering opportunities in Iowa include:
Volunteering with Volunteer Iowa
Exploring opportunities through the Pomerantz Career Center at the University of Iowa
Interning with the Johnson County Historical Society
Checking out internships and volunteer positions with organizations like LSI and WayUp.
These hands-on experiences not only provide you with valuable skills and knowledge but also allow you to:
Build connections with other legal professionals
Distinguish yourself in the competitive job market
Set the stage for a rewarding paralegal career in Iowa
Leveraging internships and volunteering opportunities can be a great way to achieve these goals.
Continuing Education and Professional Development
Engaging in ongoing professional development and continuing education is crucial for paralegals to stay current in the field and advance their careers. Courses, seminars, and webinars can help you stay informed of the latest advancements in the legal field and enhance your skills and knowledge.
You can access continuing education and professional development opportunities through local paralegal associations, online resources, and other relevant organizations. Staying abreast of industry changes and investing in your professional growth guarantees a successful and fulfilling paralegal career in Iowa.
In conclusion, becoming a paralegal in Iowa offers exciting opportunities for personal and professional growth. By obtaining paralegal certification, completing an ABA-approved program, and engaging in ongoing professional development, you can build a strong foundation for a successful career in the legal field.
As you embark on your paralegal journey, remember to take advantage of internships, volunteering opportunities, and networking events to gain valuable experience and build connections. With dedication and perseverance, you can achieve your dream of becoming a skilled and respected paralegal in Iowa.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to become a paralegal near Iowa?
With Kirkwood’s Paralegal Studies program, it takes two years to become a paralegal near Iowa and be job-ready. This program also provides credentials to further your legal career if you’re already working in the field.
Do you need a degree to be a paralegal Iowa?
No, you do not need a degree to be a paralegal in Iowa. While many law firms prefer candidates with a degree, there are no mandatory education requirements set by law for paralegals in the state. On-the-job training is an alternative option.
Is paralegal certification required in Iowa?
Paralegal certification is not required in Iowa, but it is highly encouraged to help increase your prospects for success in the field.
What are some national certification exams for paralegals?
There are four national certification exams for paralegals, with the CLA/CP exam offered by NALA being the most common. These exams are provided by three different paralegal associations.