Having a paralegal certification, credential, license, or a certificate aren’t the same things. It’s easy to see why people often confuse these things, but here’s how you can distinguish them:
- If you’ve finished a paralegal education program and you earned a certificate that you can hang on your wall, you have the ability to tell people that you are “certificated”, which is different from being certified
- Having a license means you have special permission from the government to practice your profession. However, for paralegals, there are currently no states that provide licensure.
- If you managed to pass the PCCE or PACE (more on that later) from the NFPA, you can proudly say that you are certified. This is a credential that you can attach to your name (similar to how doctors use MD after their name or RN for nurses) So, if you pass these exams, you can say that you’re “John Smith, RP” or “Registered Paralegal”.
Am I required to get a paralegal certificate or take any exams before I practice as a certified paralegal?
The short answer is no.
The definition of certification from the American Bar Association is, and I quote:
“a process by which a non-governmental agency or association grants recognition to an individual who has met certain predetermined qualifications specified by that agency or association.”
So, you have an idea that it would require you to take an exam before you became a part of an organization that caters to your chosen profession, in this case, being a paralegal.
Currently, there are no requirements for paralegals and legal assistants to be certified in the United Stated. However, paralegal organizations and bar associations have expressed interest in establishing mandatory certification for those who would like to work as paralegals or legal assistants.
By being certified, it shows your potential employers that you’re dedicated to your profession and that you have a strong grasp of the skills and knowledge needed for the field. If you pass these certification exams, you’re providing them proof that you have a superior knowledge about everything that can make you one of the best at your position.
It enhanced your credibility as a professional, provides you with more employment opportunities, and of course, gives you a better chance of having a higher salary. All of which all well worth the additional time and effort to get a certificate from a reputable program, even if it is online, or in a specialized field, like immigration.
Paralegal Certification Programs
What are some of the paralegal certification that I can take?
There are paralegals that opt to be certified once they’ve had a few years of experience under their belt. The following organizations provide certification for paralegals that would like to enhance their experience and their careers:
National Association of Legal Assistants
Issued by: NALA (National Association of Legal Assistants.) Their headquarters are located in Tulsa, Oklahoma and they have been providing certification exams for potential Certified Legal Assistance since 1976. NALA also provides advanced specialty exams for those who are interested.
These exams are for: Certified Paralegals (CP) and/or Certified Legal Assistants (CLA). As of 2014, there are around 12,000 paralegals that have been certified under NALA. In 2004, NALA managed to register the mark “CL” for those who opted to be dubbed as “paralegal” instead of “legal assistant”.
Eligibility Requirements: To be eligible for NALA’s CLA/CP examination, one must meet at least one of the following requirements:
- Must be a graduate of a legal assistant program that has either been approved by the American Bar Association, an associate’s degree program, a certificate program or bachelor’s degree in legal assistant studies, or any legal assistant program that has a minimum of 60 semester hours, with 15 hours of it dedicate to legal courses.
- A bachelor’s degree from any field with one year experience as a legal assistant. Alternatively, those without experience as a legal assistant may opt to have at least 15 semester hours of courses for legal assistant education.
- A high school diploma or its equivalent plus 7 years of experience as a legal assistant under a legitimate member of the Bar, plus proof of completion of a minimum of 20 hours of legal education credits that have been completed within a 2 year period prior to the date of the examination.
Examination: NALA’s CLA/CP exams are a comprehensive exam stretched out over two days that tackles federal law and its procedures. Some of the main subjects that these exams tackle include Interviewing Techniques, Judgment and Analytical Ability, Legal Terminology, Human Relations, Legal Research, Ethics, and Communications.
National Federation of Paralegal Associations
Issued by: The NFPA (National Federation of Paralegal Associations) offers PACE, or the Paralegal Advanced Competency Examination.
These exams are for: RP or PACE – Registered Paralegal
To be eligible for NFPA’s PACE examination, one must meet at least one of the following requirements:
- An associate’s degree in paralegal studies that have been completed from an accredited institution, and/or a paralegal education program that has been approved by the ABA, and 6 years of experience as a paralegal.
- A bachelor’s degree in any field from an accredited institution and 3 years of experience as paralegal.
- A bachelor’s degree and a completed paralegal program and 2 years of paralegal experience
- Four years of paralegal experience by December 31st, 2000
- Four (4) years substantive paralegal experience on or before December 31, 2000.
Examination: PACE, or The Paralegal Competency Examination consists of two tiers. Tier 1 caters to general legal issues and ethics, sometimes, state-specific laws are also included. Tier 2 caters to specialties.
The National Association for Legal Professionals
Issued by: The National Association for Legal Secretaries (NALS) offers three different certifications: ALS (the basic certification), PP (for paralegals), and PLS (advanced certification)
These exams are for: ALS, PP, and PLS.
For the ALS exams, you must have one of the following requirements:
- Finished an accredited program for business or legal education
- Finished the NALS Legal Training Course
- One year of experience in any office
For the PP exams, any paralegal without a degree are required to have a minimum of five years of experience as a paralegal or legal assistant. For those who have a degree in another field, other certification, or a certificate in the paralegal field, only four years of experience is required. As for those who have a paralegal degree are only required to have three years of experience.
For the PLS exams, anybody who has had at least three years of experience in the legal field can sit for the examinations. A membership for NALS is not a requirement for the exams.
ALS – The ALS consists of 3 parts that cover written communications, office procedures and legal knowledge, and human relations and judgment.
PP – The certification for PP is given in four parts and covers substantive law, ethics and judgment skills, written communication, and legal knowledge and skills. Should a candidate fail a portion of the exam, they are free to retake it. Every five year, a re-certification is required for the PP, which can be done by accumulating continuity in legal education and activities.
PLS – The exam for PLS also consist of four parts that are taken within one day and has exams for Written Communication, Office Procedures and Technology, Ethics and Judgment, and Legal Knowledge and Skills.
American Alliance of Paralegals
Issued by: The AAPI (American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.)
These exams are for: AACP
All paralegals that wish to be certified by the American Alliance of Paralegals must have no less than five years of experience as a substantive paralegal and meet at least one of the following education criteria:
- A Bachelor’s or Advance degree in any field from an accredited institution
- An Associate’s degree in paralegal studies from a paralegal program that has been approved by the ABA or a program from a voting institutional member of the AAPE (American Association for Paralegal Education)
- A paralegal certificate from a program approved by the ABA or from a voting institutional member of the AAPE (American Association for Paralegal Education)
To serve as proof of fulfillment of the eligibility requirements, the AAPI mandates all candidates to provide a procession fee, a certified true copy of official transcripts, and an affidavit or declaration from an attorney that attests to your work experience. Addotopma;u. pm;u a hand full of states are part of their program, such as California and Florida.
Examination: Surprisingly, none. Just submit all the requirements stated.
Maintenance/Recertification: In order for you to maintain your paralegal certification with the American Alliance, all AACP candidates are required to renew their states every two years and must completes at least eighteen hours of CLE, or continuing legal education, with two of those hours dedicated to ethics. Proof of completion for the CLE and a renewal fee for another two years should be submitted to the AAPI. It is also required for the candidate to be employed as a paralegal during their time of renewal.