Thank you for your interest in the Paralegal/Legal Assistant Studies program. Here are answers to frequently asked questions about the profession, the program, and our expectations of program participants.
About the profession
What is a paralegal?
The American Bar Association (ABA) defines a paralegal, or legal assistant, as "a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible."
NOTE: In many states, paralegals and legal assistants can carry out any function that lawyers perform with three notable exceptions: setting legal fees, giving legal advice to clients, and representing clients in court proceedings. Paralegals and legal assistants work directly under an attorney’s supervision, unless otherwise authorized by statute, court rules or agency regulations permitting paralegals to provide assistance directly to the public.
What do paralegals do?
The terms "paralegal" and "legal assistant" can have different meanings to different legal organizations. To be clear about KCC's curriculum, we have opted to call it the "Paralegal/Legal Assistant Studies" program. In essence, paralegals can carry out any function that a lawyer can perform with three notable exceptions:
- setting legal fees
- giving legal advice to clients
- representing clients in court proceedings
A well-trained paralegal can be extremely effective in terms of legal research and writing, drafting basic pleadings and motions, gathering and maintaining case information, and assisting attorneys during trials. Because they have been trained to perform many of the routine tasks for which attorneys have also been trained, they can provide these same services to a client for a lower price than that of an attorney.
Please note, however, that paralegals work directly under attorney supervision. Paralegals who engage in activities without such supervision are engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. This program is designed to train paralegals to assist attorneys with a variety of tasks--but the tasks must always ultimately be supervised by an attorney.
Where do paralegals work?
Employment opportunities exist in the judicial system—working for judges, or in the offices of the state's attorney or public defender. Employment also can be found at private law firms, banks, title insurance companies, corporations, or hospitals with corporate legal departments. In addition, opportunities are available in legal aid organizations and in state agencies.
Satellite branches of national and regional law firms also offer employment for paralegals and legal assistants. Such firms can be found in metropolitan areas such as Peoria, Champaign, Bloomington and Joliet. Chicago-based law firms offer the greatest number of employment opportunities for paralegals, and Loop-area firms are easily accessible by the Metra Electric Line that originates in University Park.
What do paralegals earn?
According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security's 2016 annual reporting data, the statewide average entry-level salary, with any level of education, is $16.88 per hour, or $35,120 annually. In the Kankakee Metropolitan Statistical Area, these numbers are higher. The average entry-level salary, with any level of education, is $17.55 per hour, or $36,505 annually.
The U.S. Department of Labor O*NET database reports the national median salary for paralegals at $23.80 per hour, or $49,500 annually, with 82,700 job openings projected through 2024. O*NET's Illinois data reports 400 new jobs annually, with 14,020 projected job openings through 2022 (an increase of 18%). These figures are informative; completion of the KCC program does not guarantee that your starting salary will fall within these ranges.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that Illinois has the fifth-highest employment level of paralegals, with 12,070 statewide, with an annual mean wage of $49,020. The BLS notes that Chicago, Joliet, and Naperville have the highest concentration of paralegals, with an annual mean wage of $49,430.
While KCC cannot guarantee employment upon graduation, we have a variety of resources to help you in your job search. In addition to the internship, our Office of Continuing Education and Career Services can help you with a resume review, interviewing tips, and referring you to job postings that KCC has received.
Is ABA approval important?
The American Bar Association is the premier professional organization for attorneys in the United States. Headquartered in Chicago, the ABA also has a Standing Committee on Paralegals, which advocates the role of the paralegal in the legal organization and which also establishes guidelines for approval of paralegal training programs.
Colleges and universities can opt to participate in the ABA approval process; it is not mandatory. The ABA will review programs for approval that have been in operation for a minimum of two years and that have graduated students.
KCC's Paralegal/Legal Assistant Studies Program is approved by the American Bar Association.
About the program
What are the program options at KCC?
If you have college coursework, but not a bachelor's degree, and you wish to enter the workforce upon graduation or to transfer to a four-year school, you are a candidate for the Associate in Applied Science Degree.
What if I have a bachelor's degree?
The 36-hour advanced certificate program is designed for students with a bachelor's degree and appropriate writing and computer experience to enhance their college coursework. Because these students are most often working full-time in a legal or other environment and have already met the general education requirements for a bachelor's degree, this certificate option focuses almost exclusively on paralegal-specific courses. A bachelor's degree is required for enrollment in the advanced certificate option.
Are there admissions requirements?
You must comply with KCC's general admissions requirements. You also should meet with an advisor in Student Services and the program coordinator on a regular basis to make sure that your file is in order and that you will not encounter any unexpected problems.
All students planning on enrolling in PLAS 1103 (Introduction to Paralegal/Legal Assistant Studies) must complete a set of WorkKeys® assessments in "Reading for Information," "Locating Information" and "Business Writing." Learn more about WorkKeys® here. There are additional requirements to continue enrolling in PLAS classes.
NOTE: These grade requirements do not prohibit students from enrolling in other general education courses required for the degree.
- A grade of B or better in PLAS 1103 - Introduction to Paralegal/Legal Assistant Studies
- A grade of C or better in ENGL 1613 - English I
- A grade of C or better in ENGL 1623 - English II
Which classes will I take?
In addition to your general education coursework, you will be required to complete 33 semester hours of Paralegal/Legal Assistant classes. Click on a link to see a syllabus.
Is an internship required?
In-class or book learning is not the only way you will learn about the paralegal profession and your role in it. You must have an environment in which you can apply your skills and knowledge; this is why an internship is a required part of the program. Internships are done at the conclusion of all other PLAS coursework, which traditionally means that you perform the internship in the semester prior to graduation. As a rule, this would be the only course you would take, although you might be finishing some general education requirements while working at the internship site.
You will want to be thinking about the type of legal organization in which you want to work. It can be in any type of legal environment in which we can guarantee substantive paralegal work for a total of 240 clock hours. It will be your responsibility to secure an internship site. KCC will not place you in an internship setting, although we will have a database of legal organizations in the district who have told us that they would be willing to sponsor an intern.
The program coordinator will make periodic site visits to your internship site to meet with you and the internship provider to monitor your progress. You will also have occasional workshops on KCC's campus to attend as part of the class. During the internship, you will be required to abide by all laws and rules of ethics regarding client confidentiality. In addition, all work is to be done under direct attorney supervision.
The program has relationships with most area law firms and government agencies for internship opportunities. If you would like to get more information, please contact the program coordinator.
Can I transfer this degree?
Students normally earn a transfer degree before moving to a four-year college or university. Transfer degrees are generally structured so that all of the coursework will apply to the upper division institution's degree program—and ideally, students begin in that upper division with junior status. Paralegal degrees as a whole, however, are generally occupational—that is, students completing the degree move directly into the workplace upon graduation. It is true, however, that you will earn a higher starting salary and have additional opportunities for advancement if you continue your education beyond your KCC degree.
The process of a community college making arrangements with a four-year institution to transfer credits is called articulation. At the time this webpage was published, KCC had established formal articulation agreements with the following four-year institutions:
It is important, however, that you meet with a KCC transfer advisor early in your studies to confirm that your general education coursework will transfer into a four-year program. For more information, please contact Student Services at 815-802-8500.
Can KCC make me a "certified" paralegal?
There is no college that can make you a "certified" paralegal. In fact, there is no national standard at this time for paralegal certification, although the trend is heading in that direction. There are, however, two organizations that offer independent paralegal certification examinations.
National Association of Legal Assistants - the NALA began offering a CLA (Certified Legal Assistant) designation in 1976. According to NALA's website there are almost 11,000 CLAs nationwide. Participants must pass all five sections of the CLA examination.
National Federation of Paralegal Associations - the NFPA began offering the PACE (Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam) in 1994. According to the NFPA's website the exam consists of two tiers: one comprising general and ethics questions, and one involving specialty sections.
Who will teach my classes?
Dr. Kristine Condon serves as the Paralegal/Legal Assistant Studies program coordinator. In addition to assisting you with academic advisement and program-related questions you may have, she also teaches several of the courses in the program.
For specialty courses, such as Civil or Criminal Litigation; Real Estate; Corporate Law; Evidence; Estates, Trusts, and Wills; or Family Law, KCC believes that it is best for students to learn from a practicing attorney or a judge experienced in this area of the law. For this reason, the program also relies heavily on adjunct (part-time) faculty. Adjunct faculty normally will teach evening classes because of their work and trial schedules. They also give students a way to reach them during the business day.
If you need academic advisement, program-related questions or assistance from an adjunct faculty member and cannot reach him or her, please contact the program coordinator.
Will I meet other students?
Getting to know your classmates is important. You should find classmates who study and prepare for classes as you do; that way, you have automatic study groups for tests and projects. You also have someone who can take notes for you if you have to miss a class. It's a good idea to get the phone numbers and email addresses of a few classmates early on in the semester.