Empire State Alliance of Paralegal Associations, Inc.
P.O. Box 14262
Albany, NY 12212-4262
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is a paralegal?
The definition of a paralegal adopted by the New York State Bar Association is as follows: A legal assistant/paralegal is a person who is qualified through education, training or work experience to be employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency, or other entity in a capacity or function that involves the performance, under the ultimate direction and supervision of, and/or accountability to, an attorney, of substantive legal work, that requires sufficient knowledge of legal concepts such that, absent such legal assistant/paralegal, the attorney would perform the task.
See the Paralegal Utilization section of this web site for additional information.
2. What is a “certified paralegal”?
Typically, a paralegal who has passed a state or national examination is referred to as a certified paralegal.
The certification process may vary from state to state however. For example, Delaware has a voluntary certification program which is based on a combination of education and experience, no exam necessary, and is offered by the Delaware Paralegal Association. North Carolina has a certification program which is a combination of educational requirements and passing a state examination, and is government sanctioned and run by a separate entity under the NC State Bar Association. As you can see, there can be tremendous differences between the certification process and administration. Be sure to fully investigate any certification process you are considering.
See “Important Note re: Use of Term “Certified Paralegal” in the Paralegal Utilization section of this web site for additional information.
3. What national examinations are available?
The purpose of national examinations is to test the competency levels of Paralegals. The two largest national paralegal associations, the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) (www.nala.org) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) (www.paralegals.org) offer certification exams. In addition, the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI) (www.aapipara.org) and the Association for Legal Professionals NALS (www.nals.org) offers certification exams as well. Please see their websites for details.
4. What are the educational requirements to be a paralegal in New York State?
Currently there are no established minimum educational requirements to call oneself a paralegal in New York State. Geographic areas and specific employers may have a preference for paralegals with a paralegal education, others may accept experience.
The ESAPA feels very strongly that paralegals entering the paralegal field should meet minimum educational standards as set forth in our Position Paper dated January 2006. You are encouraged to read our position paper on this website.
5. Is the paralegal profession rewarding?
The 2007 Annual Compensation Survey for Paralegals/Legal Assistants and Managers was released this summer by Altman Weil, Inc., a major legal consulting firm, in conjunction with the International Paralegal Management Association. Average annual cash compensation nationally for paralegals is $59,963, for senior paralegals $84,000 and for paralegal managers $109,303. Legal Assistant Today, a national magazine for paralegals, listed the average paralegal salary for the Northeast in 2007as $61,620. The N.Y.S. Department of Labor lists a statewide mean wage for paralegals in New York at $54,900, with experienced paralegals earning $66,010 and entry level paralegals at $39,810.
Members of the general public often misunderstand the role of paralegals, but they are respected and well compensated members of the legal profession. As the legal profession continues to expand, paralegals are increasingly assuming many higher level tasks once performed by lawyers.
6. Is there a demand for paralegals?
Employment for paralegals and legal assistants is projected to increase 22percent or more through 2016, according to information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Also, within New York State, employment for paralegals and legal assistants is projected to increase 16.3% between 2006 and 2016, as stated in the N.Y.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook.
7. Where can I expect to work as a paralegal?
Law firms, large and small, corporations, the Court systems and government entities employ paralegals in a variety of ways to perform complicated and demanding tasks.
8. What are freelance, contract and independent paralegals?
A freelance paralegal is used synonymously with contract paralegal and works as an independent contractor accountable to an attorney. Freelance paralegals are frequently contracted to work on a temporary basis. A freelance paralegal might fill a vacant position, provide extra support with a major case, or have an area of expertise that would befit a particular client.
An independent paralegal provides services to clients in which the law is involved, but for whose work no attorney is accountable. Extreme caution must be exercised by the independent paralegal in order to avoid the unauthorized practice of law.
9. What is a paralegal association?
A paralegal association is an association organized for many purposes: to promote the professional development of paralegals; to improve the image of paralegals as professionals within the legal community; to promote communication among paralegals in a geographic area; to promote continuing legal education of paralegals; to promote consumer awareness of the role of paralegals within the legal profession; and to promote the effective utilization of paralegal in the legal and business communities.
Typically a paralegal association is a place to network with fellow paralegals, and to explore employment opportunities.
10. What steps do we take to organize a paralegal association?
HOW & WHEN: Invite your fellow paralegals to a brown bag lunch at a law firm with a large conference room, organize a luncheon at a restaurant or invite paralegals to gather at the meeting room at the public library.
WHO: Invite the paralegals in your office, those that you interact with during the course of the day; do a mailing to the law firms in the area that you know employ paralegals; ask the local bar association to send a mailing or put a notice in their newsletter; contact local colleges offering paralegal programs.
11. Are there a minimum number of members needed to establish an association?
Simple answer: no! Membership of current paralegal associations in New York State varies from 5 to 250 members.
12. What would membership criteria be?
Membership can be defined by job title; by work experience; by job responsibilities without regard to job title; or educational requirements (paralegal degree or certificate). Your association’s bylaws can dictate your individual membership criteria.
13. Must an association affiliate with a national association?
It is entirely up to your members.
Some advantages of a national affiliation are: support of a National Association in start-up and maintenance; exchange of ideas through monthly/bi-monthly magazine, conference calls; support with ideas for member retention, fund-raising and burnout; typically a regional director is available to meet on an as needed basis to help a struggling association work through issues.
Some disadvantages of national affiliation are: costs – an affiliate association must pay a portion of its dues to the national association; the local association must have symmetry of ideals with the national association.
In addition to national affiliations, several states have alliances of paralegal associations that stand independent and transcend national affiliations. For example the Empire State Alliance of Paralegal Associations (NYS) meets 2-3 times annually to discuss topics of interest on a state level. The Keystone Alliance (PA) and the Connecticut Alliance of Paralegal Associations (CT) are active northeastern alliances as well.
14. How should an association be structured?
The structure can be as individual as the association itself. Most associations are run by a board of directors and officers (President, Vice President, Treasurer and Secretary). Committee chairpersons may or not be board members (CLE, Student Affairs, Pro Bono, Membership, Professional Development, Alliance representatives, national association representatives to name a few).
15. Must an association incorporate or have tax-exempt status?
Neither is required to be a paralegal association. For liability reasons, you may want to consider incorporating, but it is not necessary. Further, tax-exempt status is not required, but may enable contributions to the association to be tax deductible by the donor.
16. What resources are available to help form an association?
ESAPA members are more than willing to offer assistance and support from getting you up and running to troubleshooting specific issues. You will find member associations willing to share their bylaws, guidelines and policies. Just ask us!
17. Can a paralegal be a member of a Bar Association?
Paralegal membership is available as a “General Associate” in the American Bar Association. See www.abanet.org for further information.
At this point in time, membership is not available in the New York State Bar Association.
Membership is allowed in the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, as well as several local Bar Associations: for example, local chapters of the New York State Women’s Bar Association allow non-attorney membership. The Paralegals Committee of the Onondaga County Bar Association carries with it affiliate membership in that County’s Bar Association.
18. What support have you received so far for ESAPA’s Voluntary Certification Proposal?
Although the Empire State Alliance has been discussing this issue for several years, only within the last few months has our New York State Voluntary Certification Proposal been disseminated statewide.
19. Are attorneys being supportive?
The attorneys that understand the benefits of regulation have been supportive.
20. Is voluntary certification supported by all paralegals?
The majority of paralegals in New York State voted for voluntary certification as their regulation preference, over mandatory certification and voluntary licensure.
The purpose of the Voluntary Certification Proposal is to standardize education and experience for regulation purposes and to acquire a measurable professional status.
21. Will I have to pay my paralegal more?
The market will always determine compensation.
22. Can attorneys hire paralegals who are not certified?
Our goal is to establish standards that make it more meaningful for an employer to evaluate the qualifications of a potential employee, but nothing in this proposal will prevent you from hiring a non-certified paralegal.
23. Per III.c of the New York State Voluntary Certification Proposal , can an attorney bill for their non-certified paralegals time?
There is nothing in the current proposal that prohibits an attorney from billing their non-certified paralegal’s time.
24. What regulating body is being considered?
We haven’t made a firm decision at this point, but are pursuing available options. We have had preliminary conversations with a representative of the New York State Education Department, and they are receptive to being our oversight body.
25. If a paralegal chooses not to pursue certification, can he/she still be called a paralegal?
Yes, if they meet the definition of a paralegal in the New York State Voluntary Certification Proposal.
26. Are paralegals in other states regulated?
Currently, there is regulation in place in Delaware, Florida, Indiana(pending), Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and West Virginia.
27. Can I become an individual member of ESAPA?
Currently, ESAPA is an Alliance of member associations and individual membership is not available. Please consider becoming a member of your local association and participating in ESAPA in that way.
Copyright 2013 Empire State Alliance of Paralegal Associations, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Empire State Alliance of Paralegal Associations, Inc.
P.O. Box 14262
Albany, NY 12212-4262