In this Article
How to become a paralegal in Florida
With so many types of paralegal programs out there, it can be challenging to know what you need to do to start your career in the field. In Florida, like many other states, there is no minimum education or experience requirement to be a paralegal.
“You are not required any special education, you are not required any designation,” said Karen George, Chair of The Florida Bar’s Florida Registered Paralegal Enrichment Committee.
The qualifications to be a paralegal depend on the individual employer and job description. That said, there are some ways to prepare yourself for a successful paralegal career in the state of Florida.
For example, Florida paralegals have the option to become a Florida Registered Paralegal (FRP) and/or a Florida Certified Paralegal (FCP). These titles are not mandatory to be a paralegal in the state of Florida, but signify that you possess a certain level of paralegal education and experience, which could be highly desirable to employers.
5 steps to become a paralegal in Florida
Earn a degree.
Most paralegal jobs prefer (or require) that you have some level of post-secondary education. A degree is also typically required to qualify for a paralegal certification. An associate or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies approved by the American Bar Association (ABA)—or a similar subject such as criminal justice or communications—could benefit a prospective paralegal.
Consider earning a paralegal certificate.
Earning a paralegal certificate from a program approved by the American Bar Association may bolster your credentials and show employers that you possess a level of competency in paralegal duties. These certificates are designed for people who already have a degree, and typically take between one and two years to complete. They can be especially useful for people who have a degree in a subject other than paralegal studies.
After earning your degree, it’s important to start accruing experience. You may qualify for some entry-level paralegal or legal assistant positions, but you may need to gain some experience working in a law office or other administrative setting first.
Apply to be a Florida Registered Paralegal or Florida Certified Paralegal.
After finishing your education and gaining experience as a paralegal, you may be eligible for the Florida Registered Paralegal (FRP) or Florida Certified Paralegal (FCP) designation, or other paralegal certifications. These titles, while not required, can make you a more desirable candidate.
Maintain your certification(s).
Most paralegal certifications require that earn continuing education credits at regular intervals. Florida Registered Paralegals must complete 33 hours of continuing legal education (CLE) every three years.
The qualifications to be a paralegal Florida rely heavily on an individual employer’s demands. Most employers require that you have some post secondary education. There is no requirement for what to study, but some subjects that might be beneficial to paralegals include:
- Paralegal studies (should be approved by the ABA)
- Criminal justice
Many schools offer paralegal certificate programs which teach you the skills needed to be a successful paralegal. These certificates are designed for people who already have a degree. They can be especially useful for people who have a degree in a subject other than paralegal studies or those looking to change careers.
Although a paralegal degree or certificate can be advantageous, George emphasized that most paralegal jobs are going to want to see that you have experience.
“These kids come out and they’ve got their associate or bachelor’s in paralegal studies, but they’ve never sat in the seat… It’s wonderful that you’ve got your degree, but you need to work in an office,” George said. “Experience trumps everything. I don’t care how much education you have—take a receptionist job, work in office services, be a legal assistant, get in there.”
After earning a degree and gaining experience, you may consider working to become a Florida Registered Paralegal (FRP) or a Florida Certified Paralegal (FCP). While these credentials are not required, certifications can demonstrate your expertise and commitment to potential employers.
“In Florida, you do not need to be a Florida Registered Paralegal to be a paralegal,” said Francisco Digon-Greer, Assistant Director of the Florida Bar’s Programs Division.
To be eligible for either title, you must have some qualifying combination of education and work experience. In general, earning a more advanced degree means less practical experience will be required to qualify for a certification.
Florida Registered Paralegal
To become a Florida Registered Paralegal (FRP), you need to register yourself with the State Bar of Florida. To do so, you must satisfy their eligibility requirements by fulfilling any of the following criteria:
- Bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies from an approved paralegal program + one year of paralegal work experience
- Bachelor’s degree or higher degree (other than a juris doctorate) from an institution accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency approved by the United States Department of Education or the Florida Department of Education + three years of paralegal work experience
- Associate degree in paralegal studies from an approved paralegal program + two years of paralegal work experience
- Associate degree from an institution accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency approved by the United States Department of Education or the Florida Department of Education, + four years of paralegal work experience
- Juris doctorate degree from an ABA accredited institution + one year of paralegal work experience
- Juris doctorate degree from an ABA accredited institution and licensure in good standing in a United States jurisdiction other than Florida + no minimum paralegal work experience
- Successful completion of the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE certification as offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations “NFPA”) and good standing with NFPA
- Successful completion of the Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal examination (CLA/CP certification as offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants “NALA”) and good standing with NALA
Florida Certified Paralegal
To earn the Florida Certified Paralegal (FCP) designation, you need to pass an FCP exam administered by the Paralegal Association of Florida (PAF). This exam was designed to complement the National Association of Legal Assistants’ (NALA) Certified Paralegal (CP) Program. The exam tests you on Florida laws, as opposed to NALA’s CP exam which tests you on federal laws.
To take the test, you must already be a CP or Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) through NALA.
Florida paralegal opportunities
As one of the most populous states in the nation, it’s no surprise that there’s an abundance of diverse paralegal positions in Florida and plenty of resources to call upon, like the Florida Alliance of Paralegal Associations.
“I am trying to introduce to the paralegals who attend our CLEs that there are opportunities for paralegals other than working for an attorney, a law firm, and in-house council. They use paralegals in county, city and municipal government positions… in the entertainment industry, in associations like the Florida Bar,” George said, also noting that a boom in new construction in Florida created opportunities for paralegals in real estate development.
How much can you earn?
Florida has the fourth-highest concentration of paralegals and legal assistants in the country, behind the District of Columbia, Delaware and New York, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They are the most concentrated in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale/West Palm Beach metropolitan area.
That same metropolitan area also has the highest median wage for paralegals and legal assistants in the state, followed by the Naples and Tampa metro areas. Here are median annual salaries for paralegals in the state of Florida along with the best paying metropolitan areas.
Median Hourly Wage$23
|Metro area||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL||$59,600||$36,900||$77,130|
|Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL||$57,780||$37,300||$76,600|
|Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL||$49,050||$36,410||$75,920|
|Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL||$48,540||$30,230||$64,400|
|Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, FL||$48,000||$30,200||$76,340|
|Port St. Lucie, FL||$47,670||$29,740||$62,300|
|Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL||$47,610||$34,320||$60,470|
|Punta Gorda, FL||$47,380||$29,930||$62,510|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
Having a paralegal certification doesn’t automatically mean you will earn more money, but it could qualify you for some upper-level paralegal positions that pay more. Gaining experience and fostering legal connections by joining local paralegal associations are two great ways to increase your earning potential.