Paralegals provide essential support within the legal profession. Not only can they work directly with experienced teams of legal professionals, they are often responsible for research and preparation activities that can be critical to the success of a legal case. With opportunities to make more than $80,000 through your career, becoming a paralegal may be a perfect option for those looking to provide assistance in the legal field.
Through your work, you will likely have the opportunity to work with people from all walks of life, and may even be able to provide assistance to the less fortunate, all while working in the pursuit of justice. Paralegals are involved in a wide range of legal specialties including, but not limited to, family law, criminal defense or prosecution, and business law. This provides excellent opportunities to work in the area you are most passionate about while providing a valuable service to those you work with and your community at large.
The demand for paralegals is expected to grow at a rate of 8% between the years 2014 and 2024, amounting to approximately 21,200 new positions being created within the aforementioned time period throughout the U.S. Currently, over 3,000 paralegals are employed in the state of Kentucky alone.
In the state of Kentucky, paralegals must be certified in order to ensure competency in the field. You must be considered qualified to take the certification examination prior to being allowed to schedule a test date. Certification is issued through the Kentucky Paralegal Association. Their focus is to ensure that all those who work within the profession meet the highest standards or professionalism while promoting knowledge and ability standards within the state.
The requirement for certification is mandated through Kentucky Supreme Court Rule 3.700. Not only does this ensure those working as paralegals meet minimum quality standards, it also sets a central point for confirmation that those standards have been met. The program is self-regulating by design.
The necessary qualifications can be acquired in one of four ways, each requiring varying amounts of education and/or work experience. It is important to note that not all educational sources or work-based experience will qualify. After reviewing the following information, if any questions remain, it is best to contact the Kentucky Paralegal Association directly for guidance.
The most efficient route for those looking to pursue becoming a paralegal who do not have any prior education or experience is to complete a program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). These programs have been certified as containing the information necessary to successfully work as a paralegal within the legal field.
Programs may vary in duration, though the majority will take approximately two years and will result in the acquisition of a minimum of an associate’s degree, most commonly an associate’s in applied sciences (AAS). Course work will focus on the most relevant areas in regards to working as a paralegal along with some general education requirements. Specialized course work will include introductions to the legal field, various research and writing techniques, and introductions to different specialties within the legal field.
Approved programs may also offer the opportunity to gain real world experience through the use of internships. An internship allows a student to work within an approved legal office environment in order to familiarize students with standard office operations. Additionally, interns will be able to use the information they have learned through classroom instruction and apply it to assist within the office.
Other Paralegal Course Options
Education acquired through programs that are not specifically approved by the ABA may also meet the qualifications to participate in the examination. In order to be considered for approval, the course work must be similar to that offered through an ABA-approved program. This includes covering the appropriate topics as well as having similar requirements for program completion.
Bachelor’s Degree with Additional Experience
While a bachelor’s in the arts (BA) degree takes more time to complete, it is often less focused than an AAS degree. In order to prepare degree recipients for pursing graduate studies, a higher level of general education is required along with the specialty courses. Additionally, students may be required to select a minor whose requirements must be met along with those associated with the paralegal studies major. Further, a BA may not have the same internship requirements as approved AAS programs, so the acquisition of real world experience may not be as available.
In order to ensure the BA graduate has the skills necessary to work effectively as a paralegal either one year of work experience or an additional post-baccalaureate certificate will be required. If work experience is going to be used as part of the qualifications, the degree holder must provide verification of such work being completed will under the supervision of a qualified lawyer. Those choosing to pursue a graduate certificate will need to complete additional upper level course work, which may include the successful completion of an approved internship.
A person may be deemed qualified to take the paralegal certification exam based solely on work experience. In order to do so, you must have a minimum of five years of work experience where the duties performed mimic those that would be assigned to a paralegal. Similar to the verification requirement for the completion of work experience that is submitted along with a qualifying BA, a supervising attorney must attest to the completion of said work while under their guidance.
Applying for the Kentucky Paralegal Association’s Certified Paralegal Program Examination
The Certified Kentucky Paralegal (CKP) examination is offered through the Kentucky Paralegal Association (KPA). The test is designed to ensure the applicant has the knowledge and skills required to successfully perform the work generally assigned to a paralegal within the state of Kentucky.
In order to be eligible for the application, all required materials, such as transcripts and work experience statements, along with the application document, must be submitted for consideration. All applicants are required to sign a statement affirming the information contained within the application and all supporting documentation is, to the best of their knowledge, truthful and complete. An application fee is required.
Obtaining Study Materials
The KPA provides free study materials for applicants wishing to review the information. All questions on the examination are based on the information contained within the study materials. Further, an Exam Prep Session will be held prior to every examination date, allowing applicants a forum to discover the information contained within the material.
Kentucky Paralegal Association
The primary focus of the examination is on the ethical responsibilities associated with the work and will cover standard of conduct in regards to various situations including, but not limited to, client relationships, confidentiality, law firm policies, misconduct, and the unauthorized practice of law.
Applicants will be given two hours to complete the examination and must obtain a score of 70% or better to be considered passing. The test consists of 40 questions presented in either a true/false or multiple choice format.
Examination results will be released within 45 days of the examination date. Applicants who pass will be awarded a certificate and are eligible to use the title of Certified Kentucky Paralegal. Additionally, your name will be added to the official roster of current CKPs within the state.
Maintaining Your Certification
In order to maintain your certification as a CKP, continuing education credits must be completed each year. The minimum requirement entails eight hours of continuing education which must be include a minimum of two hours on the Paralegal Professional Standards of Conduct. All course work must be from an approved educational provider in order to qualify as part of the overall requirement. Credits must be earned no later than December 31 of each reporting year and must be reported no later than January 31 of the following year. Excess credits can be carried forward up to two successive years with a limit of no more than 16 hours carrying forward.
Once the continuing education credits have been obtained and recorded, current CKP must renew their certification no later than February 1st regardless of the date that certification was originally obtained. This will maintain the certification for one additional year.
Paralegals perform a variety of services within the designated organization. They may research facts regarding a case being handled by their employer, find information on relevant laws and regulations, gather and arrange evidence, and prepare documentation for attorney review as part of the preparation of an active case. Additionally, paralegals are often responsible for the generation of various reports, note taking, document organization and maintenance, and the filing of exhibits, briefs or appeals.
Interaction with other law professionals is common, with paralegals often working under the guidance or a more senior paralegal or lawyer. Additionally, paralegals will often interact with clients, witnesses, vendors, and members of other legal firms.
The use of technology is common and will likely include extensive use of a computer. Electronic filing and document scanning may be required, as well as the use of fax machines. Proper disposal of written documents may also be included.
Paralegals employed in smaller firms may experience a larger variety of duties while those working for larger firms may be more specialized. Specialization may be attributed to certain tasks, such as researching and reporting, certain case classifications, such as family law or criminal defense, or by providing services to select attorneys within the firm.
Accurate recording of daily activities may be required, as the hours a paralegal spends working on a particular case or for a particular client may be billed accordingly.
Standard Work Environments
The overwhelming majority of paralegals work in professional office environments and most of those work for firms within the legal services industry. Other employment opportunities may exist within the various levels of government, such as federal, state, or local governing bodies, as well as in the finance or insurance industry. Time outside the office may be spent gathering information from external sources as well as accompanying attorneys to courtrooms as needed.
The work environment may be fast or moderately paced depending on the exact nature of the business involved. Additionally, paralegals are often asked to work on and prioritize between multiple assignments at any given time, shifting the priority as needed.
Many paralegals work full time hours, with most work being completed Monday through Friday during a day shift, though it is not uncommon for some to be subject to regular overtime in order to meet important deadlines.
As of 2015, the median annual income for paralegals across the U.S. was $48,810 with entry-level positions beginning at around $31,000 in many cases. Full time employment opportunities often come with additional compensation through the offering of employee benefits packages. This can include paid vacation or sick leave, access to medical, dental, vision and prescription drug coverage, retirement planning vehicles, and even continuing education assistance in some cases.
A paralegal may complete a full career in the position, as the top 10% of paralegals in the U.S. earned an annual wage of $79,010 or higher. Others may choose to use this as a stepping stone on the path to becoming a full-fledged attorney. Attorneys in the U.S. showed a median income of $115,820 annually during the year 2015. If becoming a lawyer is the ultimate goal, additional education will be required as well as the passing of the BAR exam.