When you’re looking into how to become a paralegal in Oregon, you’ll find the best route is to earn an associate’s degree in paralegal studies or a professional certificate if you already have a bachelor’s degree in another area of study. There are no licensing or other paralegal requirements in Oregon, but employers won’t hire a paralegal without education or verifiable experience. Paralegal requirements in Oregon are left up to the employer, and employers are in the practice of hiring paralegals with a paralegal degree or certificate. The reason behind this practice is mainly due to the fact that employers don’t have the time to train paralegals to accepted standards in a short period of time. In fact, the amount of time it takes to get a degree or certificate is just enough to give access to jobs at the entry-level of paralegal employment.
Another aspect of learning how to become a paralegal in Oregon is the fact there are no Oregon paralegal requirements in terms of licensure. Instead, the standards that a paralegal is expected to perform against are left to employers and voluntary membership in paralegal organizations. The state of Oregon paralegal requirements are laid out in Rule 5.3 of the Oregon Rules of Professional Conduct, but these rules lay out what a paralegal can and cannot do along with the requirement that a paralegal has to be supervised by an attorney. It’s up to the education provided by a paralegal degree program in Oregon to teach an aspiring paralegal how to conduct themselves and perform their duties. This is why American Bar Association approval and regional accreditation of paralegal degree programs is important.
The job market for graduate paralegals in Oregon is good and there is solid growth potential due to various social factors and an increase of non-law firm employers seeking out trained legal professionals that aren’t lawyers. The Baby Boomer and Millennial cohorts are large and require legal assistance as they age. Paralegals are well-positioned to help people with wills, trusts, power of attorney, real estate transactions, and other types of estate planning needs. Corporations are another avenue a paralegal in Oregon can explore for employment as corporations are seeking to hire paralegals to perform work such as writing and reviewing contracts, assist with corporate litigation, review employee handbooks, and prepare, then file and manage corporate documentation.
Getting a Paralegal Education in Oregon
As you’re looking at paralegal education in Oregon, you’ll find there are multiple degrees and certification options that enable you to start a career as a paralegal in Oregon. Degree options include associate and bachelor degrees, and a professional certificate for students who have earned their degree in another area of study. If you’ve earned a degree in another field, you should look into online paralegal programs in Oregon and take advantage of the online program’s flexibility that allows you to learn while maintaining employment. If you don’t have a degree in another area of study, you’re best served by entering into an associate’s degree in paralegal studies program and take advantage of the opportunities that are available through the program.
Paralegal programs in Oregon typically have approval from the American Bar Association, or ABA, and is an approval that is widely recognized by employers in the legal and non-legal fields. As you look at schools, make sure to prioritize programs that have ABA approval in order to ensure that you’re receiving an education that is held to an accepted standard and is one that’s recognized by employers. However, if you are unable to gain access to a program that is not ABA-approved, that shouldn’t stop you from getting your paralegal degree. Regional accreditation for paralegal studies programs also hold weight with employers, and the worst thing that happens from attending a non-ABA-approved paralegal program in Oregon is that some employers may pass you over until you have gained experience and earned paralegal certification.
The classroom curriculum for an associate’s degree in paralegal studies is sufficient to gain access to entry-level paralegal positions, but internship opportunities can give you an edge in terms of landing a position with more responsibility and pay. ABA-approved paralegal programs in Oregon usually require a student to take an internship as part of their degree program, and this is an aspect that you should prioritize when looking at in-person or online paralegal programs in Oregon. The more experience you can bring to your first position as a paralegal, the easier it is for you to adapt and perform your duties.
Paralegal programs in Oregon typically have approval from the ABA, but online paralegal programs in Oregon did not get ABA-approval prior to the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ABA gave approval to online paralegal programs across the country initially on a temporary basis and has recently decided to make their decision permanent. Previously, online paralegal programs in Oregon were not ABA-approved even though they were synchronous with the on-campus program. Now students can attend an online paralegal program in Oregon of their choice and also have the guarantee that their education meets the ABA standards for education.
Getting a Paralegal Certification in Oregon
There is no licensure or certification required for paralegal certification in Oregon. Paralegals are subject to a state rule that defines their ability to work as a representative of the law, but are not a lawyer. Oregon’s Rule 5.3 titled Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistance states that lawyers have to provide direct supervisory authority over the nonlawyer, makes sure that the nonlawyer’s conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer, and does not allow the nonlawyer to render legal services. In sum, a paralegal has to work under the supervision of a lawyer, and can’t practice law on their own. However, a paralegal can join state and national paralegal associations to further enhance credibility and demonstrate to employers that the paralegal has made the effort to demonstrate their competency as a paralegal.
Even though there is no official Oregon paralegal certification, a graduate from a paralegal degree program can join the Oregon Paralegal Association (OPA) and apply to become an Oregon Certified Paralegal (OCP). OPA is a member association of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. Joining OPA also includes a membership with NFPA as a membership benefit. Another pathway towards paralegal Certification in Oregon is through NALA, The Paralegal Association. NALA offers a paralegal credential, known as the Certified Paralegal, and is a credential that’s recognized worldwide. Certifications and memberships in paralegal programs are voluntary but are worth making the effort to earn in order to improve career prospects.
What is the Oregon Paralegal Association?
The OPA offers an Oregon Certified Paralegal (OCP) certification that’s administered by the OPA Regulation Committee. The OCP establishes standards for accountability and competency for Oregon paralegals and gives them an opportunity to validate their qualifications. It’s also a credential that demonstrates an Oregon paralegal has met certain education and experience requirements. An OCP is defined as someone who has:
- Been employed or retained by an Oregon lawyer, law office, governmental agency, corporation or other Oregon entity for at least 12 months
- Performs specifically delegated legal work under the supervision of an attorney
- Has experience in applying in-depth knowledge of Oregon law and legal procedures
- Giving direct assistance to lawyers in legal research
- Meeting with and/or interviewing clients and witnesses
- Performing other aspects of law office, in-house counsel, or government agency operations
What is the National Federation of Paralegal Associations?
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) is the first national paralegal association in the U.S. Its core purpose is to advance the paralegal profession by shaping laws and providing advocacy for its membership base. NFPA also offers two different paralegal certifications that include the Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCE) and the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE).
The PCCE is designed to test the skills, knowledge, and ability of paralegals who are in the early stages of their career. Both paralegal certifications can be taken online, and give a junior paralegal a credential that helps their career in lieu of an Oregon paralegal license. Aspiring applicants for the PCCE have to meet one of the following criteria:
- Bachelors degree in any subject, paralegal certificate, no experience or continuing legal education (CLE)
- Bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies and no CLE or experience
- Associate’s degree in paralegal studies and no experience or CLE
- Associate’s degree in any subject, paralegal certificate, no CLE or experience
- Candidates who are within two months of graduation and registered for the exam by a director of paralegal studies program that’s participating in the PCCE assurance of Learning program
These and other certified paralegal certification programs act as paralegal certification in Oregon. The OPA and national paralegal certification organizations don’t overlap in the sense that getting one certification is sufficient and covers all of your certification needs. Oregon paralegal certification comes in the form of the OCP designation, but your career can benefit from adding national certifications alongside the OCP. This is one of those areas where the more certification you can earn as a paralegal in Oregon, the better it is for your career and educational trajectory.
Job Market and Salary Outlook for Oregon Paralegal Jobs
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 4,660 people employed as paralegals in Oregon. Nationally, the field is projected to grow at a rate of 12% from 2020 to 2030 which is faster than the average job growth for most occupations. It’s estimated that there will be 43,000 openings on average for paralegals each year across the country. Multiple factors are driving the growth of the paralegal field including retirement, increased demand for paralegals from non-legal employers, and a need for legal assistance from the population in general.
The average Oregon paralegal salary in 2021 is $58,640 with 10% of paralegals earning $45,684 and the top 90% earning $73,102. The entry level salary for a paralegal demonstrates the position is a well-compensated one even for those who are just entering the profession. Many law firms pay out bonuses to paralegals at the end of each quarter and is usually reflected in the average salary. However, employers may not advertise bonus amounts in their job descriptions due to the fact the amounts vary depending on performance. That means the salary advertised in a job description may be lower than the average Oregon paralegal salary. This should not discourage you from applying for a job as bonuses can greatly boost an annual salary.
Other options for employment are governmental and private industries such as insurance, health and medical, and real estate that have to operate in compliance with the law, and need the assistance of someone who has legal training. Most non-law firm employers look for paralegals with experience, but it’s an eventual career option for a paralegal who wants to leave law firm employment and work for other employers doing legal work. The average salary for a non-law firm paralegal is around the same, and sometimes better than the salary offered by a law firm. A paralegal won’t suffer financially for making the transition to a corporate position.
Is Being a Paralegal in Orgeon Worth It?
There is a lot to consider and research when making the decision to become a paralegal in Oregon. Consider the work that you put into researching and planning as preparation for the type of work you’re going to perform during your career as a paralegal. The due diligence you put into learning more about a career as a paralegal is similar to the need to be thorough and prepared on a daily basis. You’ll also find your decisions for the type of education you undertake lead to better educational satisfaction and help you focus on the area of law you want to concentrate in as a paralegal. Setting yourself up for career success as a paralegal begins when you start researching the schools with paralegal certificate programs that appeal to you the most.
One of the major benefits to learning how to become a paralegal in Oregon is the fact that there are multiple degree options that help you refine your career as you gain experience and advance in the ranks. Starting with a professional certificate or associate’s degree helps you get a feel for the profession and start your career in two years or less. As previously mentioned, earning an associate’s degree in paralegal studies is the first step into the career. You can return to school at a later date to earn your bachelor’s degree in paralegal or legal studies and gain access to higher paralegal titles sooner than later. In the event you find that you want to get more out of a legal career, you can attend law school and earn your Juris Doctorate and take the bar exam to become an attorney.