Since the inception of the four-year ABA-approved paralegal program in 1987 at Mississippi College, enrollment has plateaued at about 35 students, said Anna Clements, program director.
“Enrollment was as high as 65 students in the beginning,” Clements said. “Nationwide, many schools have seen the same trend in enrollment. However, there are no educational requirements for paralegals in Mississippi.”
As an option to the four-year paralegal undergraduate program, Mississippi College is offering a 30-hour paralegal program. An undergraduate degree is required, and after completion, students receive a paralegal certificate. Many students in the 30-hour program have returned to school several years after receiving a degree in another field of study, Clements said.
A paralegal degree provides good training for people who want to go into legal firms in those roles, said Dr. Howell Todd, president of Mississippi College in Clinton.
“As we`re seeing society, in general, becoming more litigious, there`s certainly a greater need for people in roles like these, not only for attorneys, but those who can assist partners and others in law firms in roles like this,” said Todd.
Most large law firms have legal assistant managers, which is often confused with the role of paralegals, Clements said. Passing a voluntary exam given by the National Association of Legal Assistants certifies legal assistants. NALA is one of two national organizations that say a four-year paralegal degree is not necessary. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations has an exam in the works that will not require a four-year degree by the year 2000, Clements said.
“The whole reason for the paralegal profession is to make the cost of delivering legal services to the public affordable since there is a crisis in this country of even middle-classed people who cannot afford a good lawyer for civil matters,” Clements said. “Pro bono work by lawyers is not enough. And savvy clients refuse to pay a lawyer his or her hourly rate to do work a paralegal can be trained to do at a much lower billable rate.
“Quite a few paralegals, especially men, are law school bound,” she said. “Their reasoning is that since paralegal studies have gotten them interested in the law, why should they settle for lower pay? I`m certainly not trying to get them to do that. My job is to educate paralegals.”