Are you considering a rewarding and dynamic career as a paralegal in Virginia? With an increasing demand for paralegals in various legal settings, now is a great time to explore the possibilities of being a paralegal professional. In this comprehensive state guide on how to become a paralegal in Virginia, we will explore requirements to be a practicing paralegal in the Old Dominion, educational pathways available, the importance of American Bar Association (ABA) approval and accreditation, practical experience, national certification, paralegal associations, and tips for success in this thriving field.
At a glance, Virginia has no state regulation requirements. This allows paralegals to qualify for job positions with work experience or education that meets no legal standards. In response, the Virginia Alliance of Paralegal Associations (VAPA), formerly the Virginia Alliance of Legal Assistant Associations, developed educational standards and professional responsibility guidelines for paralegals practicing in Virginia. These guidelines and standards include:
What you’re about to learn in this guide:
- Understanding the Paralegal Profession in Virginia
- Education Pathways for Aspiring Paralegals
- Top Paralegal Schools and Programs in Virginia
- Importance of ABA Approval and Accreditation
- Gaining Practical Experience
- Pursuing National Certification
- Joining Paralegal Associations in Virginia
- Job Opportunities and Salaries for Paralegals in Virginia
- Tips for Success in the Paralegal Field
Understanding the Paralegal Profession in Virginia
The paralegal profession in Virginia is flourishing, with opportunities available in government agencies, law firms, and corporations. Paralegals, also known as legal assistants, work under the direction of authorized attorneys and are prohibited from providing legal counsel to the general public. With approximately 9,960 paralegals employed in Virginia in 2018 and a promising job outlook projected to increase by 10% from 2019 to 2029, it’s clear that this career path is on the rise.
A strong foundation in legal research, writing, and analysis is crucial for succeeding as a paralegal in Virginia. Some key skills and qualifications for this profession include:
Formal training in legal research, writing, and analysis
Strong computer and database management skills
Obtaining a paralegal certification, which can enhance job prospects and demonstrate dedication to the legal profession
The average paralegal salary for legal assistants in Virginia is $51,740, offering an attractive income for those seeking a legal career.
Education Pathways for Aspiring Paralegals
Aspiring paralegals in Virginia have a variety of educational pathways to choose from, including paralegal certificate programs, associate degrees in paralegal studies, and bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies. Each educational pathway offers its unique advantages, with certificate programs providing a focused overview of the field, associate degrees offering a more comprehensive education, and bachelor’s degrees delivering the most in-depth understanding of the legal field.
We will now delve into each of these educational options for a better understanding.
Paralegal Certificate Programs
Paralegal certificate programs in Virginia offer a fantastic opportunity for those seeking a solid foundation in legal research, writing, and other essential skills for entry-level positions. These programs provide a fundamental understanding of the paralegal field and can be completed in a relatively short period of time, making them a popular choice for many aspiring legal professionals. Examples of paralegal certificate programs in the state include those offered by Virginia Commonwealth University and James Madison University.
Virginia Commonwealth University’s paralegal certificate program includes courses such as civil litigation, legal research, business and contract law, torts & personal injury, and introduction to law, with a duration of six months. James Madison University’s paralegal certificate program also offers courses in contract law, legal research, introduction to law, and civil litigation, and can be completed in just five months.
Both programs equip graduates with specialized paralegal skills that are highly valued in the job market and rewarded with higher salaries.
Associate Degrees in Paralegal Studies
Associate degrees in paralegal studies provide a more comprehensive education, covering various law specializations and preparing graduates for a wide range of paralegal roles. These programs offer an in-depth understanding of the legal system and the role of paralegals, as well as the chance to acquire hands-on experience in the field. Examples of associate degree programs in paralegal studies in Virginia include those offered by Northern Virginia Community College, Liberty University, and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College.
Northern Virginia Community College’s Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies typically takes approximately 24 months to complete and prepares graduates for positions such as title examiner, legal researcher, or victim’s advocate.
Liberty University’s Associate of Arts in Paralegal Studies requires 60 semester credits and can lead to a Bachelor of Science degree in paralegal studies.
J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College’s paralegal associate’s degree also equips graduates for opportunities as a title examiner, legal researcher, or victim’s advocate.
Bachelor’s Degrees in Paralegal Studies
Bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies provide the most in-depth understanding of the legal field, enhancing career prospects and earning potential for graduates. These programs offer a comprehensive knowledge of the legal system and the part of paralegals, as well as the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the field. Examples of bachelor’s degree programs in paralegal studies in Virginia include those offered by South University, Hampton University, and Regent University.
South University offers a Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies, which helps students develop fundamental legal writing, research, technological, and analytical skills for a career in legal services.
Hampton University provides a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Paralegal Studies, with core classes such as:
Law in Society
Legal Research and Writing
Litigation & Trial Practice
Torts & Personal Injury
Regent University’s Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies program includes classes such as:
Investigation in litigation
Wills, trust & probate law
Real estate law
Law and ethics
Personal injury law
Top Paralegal Schools and Programs in Virginia
The success of your legal career is greatly influenced by your choice of paralegal school or program. Some of the top paralegal schools and programs in Virginia include:
Virginia Commonwealth University
George Mason University
James Madison University
Old Dominion University
Christopher Newport University
These institutions offer ABA-approved and accredited programs, ensuring that you receive the highest quality paralegal education.
Importance of ABA Approval and Accreditation
While exploring educational options, don’t overlook the importance of ABA approval and accreditation. These factors guarantee that your chosen paralegal program meets the highest standards of quality and adequately equips you for the paralegal profession.
Selecting an ABA-approved and accredited program will boost your confidence in your education and enhance your employability in the legal sector.
Gaining Practical Experience
Aspiring paralegals can develop their skills and improve their job prospects by gaining practical experience. Internships, job shadowing, and networking are all excellent methods to obtain practical experience in the paralegal field.
Actively applying your knowledge in real-world settings not only sharpens your abilities but also helps you understand the ethical and legal obligations of a paralegal, thereby demonstrating your commitment to the legal profession.
Pursuing National Certification
National certification can enhance a paralegal’s qualifications and employability in Virginia, demonstrating commitment to the legal profession and validating your skills and knowledge.
To pursue national certification, you must meet various eligibility requirements and choose from several exam options, depending on the specific certification.
Eligibility for national certification requires a combination of education, training, and experience, depending on the specific certification. For example, to be eligible for the Virginia Registered Paralegal (VARP) credential offered by the Virginia Alliance of Paralegal Associations (VAPA), you must be a voting member of a participating paralegal organization and meet certain education and experience requirements.
Researching the specific eligibility requirements for your desired certification is key to ensure you are well-prepared for the examination.
Aspiring paralegals in Virginia can choose from four national certification exams to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in the paralegal field. These exams include the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or Certified Paralegal (CP) exam offered by NALA (National Association of Legal Assistants) and the Paralegal Advanced Competency Examination (PACE) offered by NFPA (National Federation of Paralegal Associations).
Successfully completing one of these exams in bankruptcy law can bolster your professional credentials and increase your marketability in the competitive legal sector.
Joining Paralegal Associations in Virginia
Joining paralegal associations in Virginia can provide valuable networking opportunities, continuing education, and professional support for paralegals. Some of the prominent paralegal associations in the state include the Paralegal Association of Northern Virginia (PANV), the Virginia Alliance of Paralegal Associations (VAPA), and the Association of Legal Secretaries (VALS).
Membership in these associations allows you to stay abreast of the latest industry trends, foster connections with peers, and gain access to valuable resources and job opportunities.
Job Opportunities and Salaries for Paralegals in Virginia
Job opportunities and salaries for paralegals in Virginia are promising, with the average salary for paralegals and legal assistants being $53,400, or $25.67 per hour, as of May 2020. The demand for paralegals is expected to continue to grow, with approximately 10,440 paralegal jobs reported in Virginia as of May 2020.
Paralegals in larger metropolitan areas like Washington-Arlington-Alexandria can expect higher earnings and better job prospects, making it an attractive location for aspiring legal professionals.
Tips for Success in the Paralegal Field
Achieving success in the paralegal field requires the pursuit of a well-rounded education, practical experience, national certification, and involvement in professional associations.
By following these tips and staying informed about industry trends, you can build a solid foundation for a rewarding legal career. With dedication and hard work, you can become a highly skilled and in-demand paralegal in Virginia.
In conclusion, the paralegal profession in Virginia offers a wealth of opportunities for those who are dedicated to building a successful legal career. By pursuing a comprehensive education, gaining practical experience, obtaining national certification, and joining professional associations, you can set yourself apart from the competition and thrive in this dynamic and rewarding field. Take the first step on your journey to becoming a paralegal in Virginia today and embrace the challenges and rewards that lie ahead.