Become a Paralegal in Illinois

Illinois is so centrally located to major areas of commerce that, even with the economic downturn, it cannot help but be a land of opportunity for well-educated paralegals. Illinois employs 11,360 paralegals and legal assistants, with 9,700 in the Chicago-Joliet-Naperville area alone. In addition, the state is strategically located near several major cities in other states, including Jackson, Missouri and St. Louis, Missouri. Shipping and related industries abound in the Great Lakes region and Chicago has a rich political environment where paralegal skills area an asset. Archer Daniels Midland, Boeing, Walgreen, State Farm Insurance, Caterpillar, Kraft Foods, Abbott Industries, United Continental Holdings, All State Insurance, Deere, Sears Holdings, United Continental Holdings and McDonald’s are only a few of Fortune 500 companies in the state; 29 Illinois companies were on the Fortune 500 list for 2012 and seven of those companies were in the top 100 in the nation.

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According to May, 2012 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average hourly wage for paralegals in Illinois is $24.82. That means that paralegals working part time can earn as much as $31,780, and those with working in certain positions and willing to work overtime can make as much as $73,840. The annual mean wage is $51,630.

Paralegal Certification

Illinois does not have a mandatory certification program. Although bills have been written to that would require certification for Legal Document Preparers, so far they have been defeated.

Where to Earn Your Paralegal Certificate or Degree in Illinois

Paralegal Certificates

  • College of Lake County

    The College of Lake County is a community college with a main campus in Grayslake, north of Chicago, and a number of satellite campuses and extension sites. Its paralegal studies certificate program requires 30 credits and is open only to those who already have an associate or bachelor’s degree. Students can select from a wide range of electives, allowing them to study areas of law that interest them, and can take part in internships that provide them with real-world experience.

    • Estimated Program Cost: $2,760 for district residents; $7,200 for out-of-district state residents; $9,705 for out-of-state students (based on fall 2013 per credit hour tuition)
    • Prerequisites: Associate or bachelor’s degree
    • ABA Approved: Yes
    • Format: On campus or hybrid online/on-campus

    Sample required courses:

    • Interviewing practices
    • Drafting Legal Documents
    • Litigation
  • Kankakee Community College

    Located south of Chicago, Kanakee Community College offers an Advanced Certificate in paralegal/legal assistant studies for students who already have a bachelor’s degree. It requires 36 credit hours, including an internship. Since the majority of students are already working full time in law environments, this course of study is comprised almost entirely of paralegal courses.

    • Estimated Program Cost*: $4,212 (based on 2013-2014 per credit hour tuition and fees)
    • Prerequisite: Bachelor’s degree
    • ABA Approved: Yes
    • Format: On campus

Paralegal Associate Degrees

  • College of DuPage

    A community college in Glen Ellyn, the College of DuPage offers an Associate in Applied Science in paralegal studies that entails 67 to 70 credit hours including general education and paralegal courses, as well as a practicum under the supervision of an attorney. Students gain a working knowledge of the law, while developing research, writing and communications skills that allow them to work effectively in law offices, as well as in corporations, real estate firms, banking, insurance, the medical field and other areas in which there is a growing need for paralegal skills.

    • Estimated Program Cost: $9,380 for residents of District 502; $4,690 for senior citizen residents of District 502; $21,909 for Illinois residents outside of District 5012; $26,599 for out-of-state students (based on fall 2013 per credit tuition)
    • Prerequisites: Admissions is open to those who have a high school diploma or GED or have completed a state approved home-school program, as well as anyone at least 18 years of age who can benefit from college-level instruction.
    • ABA Approved: Yes
    • Format: On campus

    Sample required courses:

    • Civil Litigation
    • Advanced Legal Research & Writing
    • Drafting Legal Documents
    • Environmental Law
    • Intellectual Property Law
  • Northwestern College (formerly Northwestern Business College)

    Northwestern College is a two-year business and career college with a unique outlook on education: instead of providing education that helps students find a job, this school offers specific education for specific career paths, a focus that colors its paralegal Associate in Applied Science program. This program requires 100 credit hours that give students a general education foundation and the legal knowledge necessary to work as paralegals after graduation.

    • Estimated Program Cost: $44,500 (based on 2013 per credit tuition)
    • Prerequisites: High school diploma, GED or completion of an approved home-school program; ACT score of at least 15, SAT score of at least 740 or qualifying placement exam score (if ACT or SAT scores aren’t available); keyboarding efficiency of at least 35 words per minute
    • ABA Approved: Yes
    • Format: On campus or hybrid on campus/online

    Sample required courses:

    • Civil Litigation and Procedure
    • Legal Research and Writing
    • Real Estate Law
    • Introduction to Legal Research

Paralegal Bachelor’s Degrees

  • Illinois State University

    Located in Normal, Illinois, Illinois State is a four-year public institution founded in 1857, making it the first public university in the state. Its major in legal studies, offered for the first time in fall 2014, requires 120 credit hours and allows students to benefit from small class sizes and internship opportunities.

    • Estimated Program Cost: $41,040 for state residents; $70,800 for out-of-state students (based on fall 2015 per credit tuition)
    • Requirements: High school diploma or GED and SAT/ACT scores; once admitted, students must pass the university’s Introduction to Law for Paralegals course with a B or higher and formally apply to the paralegal program.
    • ABA Approved: Yes
    • Format: On campus

    Sample required courses:

    • Investigative Techniques & Evidence
    • Political Science Professional Development
    • Probate Law
    • Domestic Relations & Family Law
  • Roosevelt University

    Roosevelt University is an independent, non-profit institution with campuses in Chicago and Schaumburg. Its Paralegal Studies Program has an excellent reputation in the local legal community and nationwide. Students can choose from several bachelor’s degree options, including a four-year, 120 credit Bachelor of Arts in paralegal studies, and a Bachelor of Professional Studies with a major in paralegal studies. They can also benefit from career counseling and job placement, as well as lifetime access to a job board.

    • Estimated Program Cost: $106,000 (based on 2013-2014 tuition and fees)
    • Requirements: High school diploma or GED, ACT/SAT scores or RUA (Roosevelt University Assessment)
    • ABA Approved: Yes
    • Format: On campus

Additional Paralegal Programs

Professional Organizations

  • The Illinois Paralegal Association (IPA) promotes the paralegal profession and communication between members, the legal community and civic and professional organizations. It also informs members of developments in the paralegal profession and provides for and encourages continuing education.
  • The Central Illinois Paralegal Association (CIPA) hosts monthly meetings where paralegals from different specialties can network and keep abreast of events and changes in their various sectors. It also holds an annual continuing education seminar.
  • The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) is comprised of paralegal associations across the nation. The NFPA website is a good starting place for those thinking of becoming paralegals as it contains a wealth of information about the profession.
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