Which Certification is Best for You?
Paralegal programs grant certificates or diplomas to graduates who have successfully completed the necessary paralegal training. This is not the same as paralegal certification, which is granted by three professional organizations.
At present, there are no mandatory requirements for paralegal certification or licensing. Only in California are paralegals required to meet certain educational standards.
Nonetheless, certification is recommended because in some highly competitive markets employers prefer or even require it. Some paralegals even seek out certification after getting several years job experience to increase their real-world knowledge.
Paralegal Certificate Courses
A bachelor's degree is a common prerequisite for paralegal certification programs. Since you won't need to take general education courses, a certificate program can take as little as nine months to complete.
Paralegal students can expect to take these four mandatory courses:
- Introduction to Law and the Legal System
- Civil Procedure
- Legal Research and Writing
- Contract Law
In addition to these courses, you'll also choose electives which can help hone your skills in a certain area of law. Here are a few examples of courses you'll choose from:
- Commercial Transactions
- Employment Law
- Environmental Law
- Family Law
- Probate Practices
- Real Estate and Property Law
Paralegal certificate programs are typically designed for students looking for flexibility. In fact, some paralegal courses are taught online.
Many paralegals suggest enrolling in a program that is approved by the American Bar Association. When researching schools, ask about financial aid, job placement services, advising and if any previous legal classes can be counted as credit.
Once you've earned your certificate from a paralegal school, you can apply for professional certification. The three agencies are as follows:
- National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA): NALA has established standards for certification requiring various combinations of education and experience. Paralegals who meet these standards are eligible to take a two-day examination administered three times a year at regional testing centers. Those who pass this examination may use the designation Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal (CLA/CP).
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA): The NFPA-administered Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) offers professional recognition to paralegals with various combinations of education and experience. Those who pass this examination may use the designation Registered Paralegal (RP).
- American Alliance of Paralegals (AAPI): The AAPI administers the American Alliance Certification Program (AACP). It is not necessary to take an exam to receive AACP certification. Any paralegal with five years of work experience and certain education requirements is eligible to apply for certification.
Once on the job, you can decide for yourself whether you want to pursue paralegal certification or not.