How Do I Become a Certified Paralegal?
Paralegals, also known as legal assistants, help lawyers with preparatory work, and research for meetings, hearings and trials. Although there are no formal requirements to become a paralegal, earning certification can enhance career and advancement opportunities. If you'd like to learn more about becoming a certified paralegal, keep reading.
Overview of Certified Paralegals
Paralegals support lawyers in their everyday tasks. As a paralegal, you might conduct legal research and compile the information, organize files related to cases, obtain affidavits, write reports and draft correspondences. Your specific duties will depend upon the size of the firm. For example, your duties would typically be more varied at a smaller firm. If you're employed at a larger firm, your work may focus on a particular phase of a case. You can specialize in a particular area of law, such as litigation, corporate law, intellectual property, real estate, personal injury or criminal law.
Important Facts About Paralegals
|Work Environment||Offices and law libraries|
|Similar Occupations||Claims adjusters, appraisers, examiners, and investigators, secretaries and administrative assistants|
|Median Salary (2018)||$50,940 (for paralegals and legal assistants)*|
|Job Outlook (2016-2026)||15% (for paralegals and legal assistants)*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
One education option for a career as a paralegal is the completion of a two-year associate degree program. If you already hold a bachelor's degree, you can get paralegal training through a certificate program. Only a small number of schools offer bachelor's or master's degree programs in paralegal studies. You may also get on-the-job paralegal training from some employers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are more than 1,000 colleges, universities and other training institutions offering formal training to become a paralegal. However, the American Bar Association (ABA) has only approved about 270 of these programs. Although it's not required, you may find better job opportunities by completing an ABA-approved program.
Becoming a certified paralegal is voluntary, but there are several national and local organizations that offer professional certification. Earning certification may increase your employment opportunities and may be looked upon favourably by potential employers. Most certification examinations have prerequisites, which generally include paralegal education and job experience.
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers two entry-level credentials: Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) and Certified Paralegal (CP). Prerequisites to qualify for the two-day examination include education, experience, or a combination of both. Members hold certification for five years, and continuing education is required for recertification. For experienced paralegals, the NALA also offers an Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) credential (www.nala.org).
The Registered Paralegal (RP) distinction from the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) is open to paralegals holding bachelor's degrees with a minimum amount of work experience. In addition, candidates must also successfully pass the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE). Eligibility requirements for the PACE examination include education, experience or a combination of both. The RP certification lasts for two years and requires 12 hours of continuing education for recertification (www.paralegals.org).
The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI) offers the American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) certification. To qualify for the examination, you must have an approved educational background and a minimum of five years of job experience. The certification lasts for three years, and recertification requires 18 hours of continuing education (www.aapipara.org).