The program consists of three semesters. Program cost for each semester is $1,750. Additionally, in any given semester a student may pay tuition using a two payment plan; however the payment plan incurs an additional nonrefundable $200 payment plan fee.
UTSA has declined to pursue approval by the American Bar Association (ABA) because such an approval is not required for students to take the national Certified Legal Assistant (CLA)/Certified Paralegal (CP) exam if they meet certain NALA requirements. The program, along with some college credit or experience as a legal assistant, qualifies students to sit for the NALA national Certified Legal Assistant Exam. Visit NALA's website for more information.
Paralegals, also known as legal assistants, perform many legal tasks under attorney supervision, including document drafting, legal research, fact investigation, case management and preparation for trial.
Wherever you find lawyers, you will likely find paralegals. Career opportunities not only exist in the traditional private law firms; they also exist with the in-house legal departments of banks, hospitals, insurance companies, airlines, retail chains, and others. Positions can be found in state, federal, and local government agencies and courts. Many times, paralegal positions are combined with other job duties. For example, you might find a job as a paralegal/office manager, paralegal/legal secretary, or paralegal/bookkeeper. Also, positions requiring paralegal skills may be classified under other job titles, such as research assistant, court coordinator, legislative aide, or paralegal specialist.
Completing the UTSA Paralegal Certificate Program does not make you a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA). The certificate earned in the UTSA program is, however, widely recognized by employers and acts as a stepping stone toward gaining your CLA status. The CLA exam is administered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). NALA requires that candidates wishing to sit for the certification exam must possess at least 45 verifiable college semester hours in any field of study and have completed an educational program like the UTSA Paralegal Certificate Program. NALA sets its own eligibility requirements and fees, sponsors the exam review courses, and administers the exam. Various combinations of credentials may be acceptable. Students are not required to take the CLA exam to work as a paralegal, though many employers do look for the CLA credential when hiring.
The CLA exam is offered every January, May, and September. Registration for the exam is through NALA, not UTSA. The CLA exam is administered at locations across the United States and many schools, universities and junior colleges may serve as testing centers through an arrangement with NALA. The testing date deadlines, application forms, fee information, and other test related information is available at www.nala.org.
The exact job duties of a paralegal will vary depending on the attorney's needs and the firm's practice areas. Paralegals assist attorneys in all legal disciplines including general civil litigation, business law, criminal law, family law, labor law, real estate, bankruptcy, probate and more. Specific duties might include legal research, investigation of facts, gathering medical and other written data, managing litigation deadlines and case files, writing case status reports, summarizing deposition testimony, and creating legal documents for attorney review. In many firms paralegals will assist the attorney at trial by coordinating witnesses, tracking exhibits, monitoring jury reactions and quickly accessing pertinent information as the case unfolds.
Paralegals are required to work under the supervision of a licensed attorney. Providing legal services to the public by non-attorneys constitutes the unauthorized practice of law for which civil and criminal penalties exist. Paralegals who wish to freelance may contract their services to attorneys or law firms but not to members of the general public.
Individuals wishing to work in the paralegal field typically will need one of the following: a paralegal certificate, a college degree, the CLA credential, or experience in the legal field. Some large law firms and corporate legal departments seek job candidates with both a college degree and a paralegal certificate. Others simply require job skills, a good attitude and the ability to get the job done. Hiring criteria appears to be the most flexible among the small to mid-sized law firms, particularly among the solo practitioners.
Paralegal professionals work with attorneys, their clients and court personnel in a fast-paced environment. People with good communication skills, strong reading ability, an aptitude for writing, good grammar, computer literacy, and organizational skills are best suited for a career in the paralegal field. This program also creates a good foundation for those interested in attending law school.
The paralegal salary depends upon the region, the type of law setting, the level of experience and the amount and quality of job skills. Many graduates report that law firms prefer to start new paralegals in case clerk, file clerk, or administrative assistant positions to help them gain experience and learn the ropes of that firm. Often times, diligent graduates report their first pay raise came within the first few months on the job. The paralegal profession is one in which salaries can escalate quickly once you get your foot in the door and prove your ability.
Paralegals can obtain a better starting salary by marketing their transferable job skills. More skills = more money. Start by identifying your job skills gained from other industries that will transfer to a law office. For example, do you have a demonstrated ability to write reports, coordinate projects, organize information, meet deadlines, assure compliance with regulations, summarize information, or interact positively with clients? Are you familiar with medical terminology, skilled in Internet research, talented with numbers, knowledgeable about human resource issues, good with grammar, or able to use a variety of computer software? Highlight these skills. Add the UTSA Paralegal Certificate and market yourself, based on your prior background, to e.g., personal injury, insurance defense, business law, employment law, criminal, probate, or general practitioner lawyers. Marketing these skills will help you obtain an increased starting salary.
While no school can guarantee that every student who completes its program will find a job, our program does include important tools to help you obtain a job in the legal field. All classroom students will receive assistance in drafting a resume and writing a cover letter particular to the legal industry, and will participate in a mock interview. Online students and alumni can have their resume and/or cover letter reviewed by the program director. Additionally, the Paralegal Program office posts job opportunities in the San Antonio area and surrounding areas for students and alumni.
Students who wish to receive a replacement Certificate of Completion should contact the program in writing, preferably by email. Student must provide their full legal name used at the time they completed the program, the approximate month and year of completion, a valid mailing address and a phone number where the student can be reached during the day. There is a charge of $75 for this service.