Paralegal Certification

Becoming a formally certified paralegal isn’t a requirement for getting a job in the field. Completing the requirements for certification will help a job seeker distinguish him or herself from the pack as a qualified candidate when looking for work, though.

There are a number of organizations offering certification programs for paralegals. Some of them are national in scope, while others are at the state or local level.

National Association of Legal Assistants

The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers continuing education and certification programs for people working in the legal field. It has been offering programs to legal professionals since 1976 and as of September 2010, there are 16,218 Certified Paralegals and 2098 Advanced Certified Paralegals in the United States.

To become a Certified Paralegal, an applicant must obtain a grade of 70 percent or higher on each section of a five-part exam. The examination is made up of the following components:

  • Communications
  • Ethics
  • Legal Research
  • Judgment and Analytical Ability
  • Substantive Law

Questions on the exam include True/False, multiple choice and ones in a matching format. An applicant is required to demonstrate his or her knowledge of different areas of law, as well as analytical and writing abilities, by answering essay questions.

NALA offers self study and online web-based programs to help paralegals prepare for the exam. Live study courses conducted over 2 1/2 or 4 days are offered at various locations as well.

American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.

The American Alliance of Paralegals offers a voluntary certification program for paralegals who have at least five years of professional experience, as well as one of the following:

  • Bachelor’s degree (or higher) from an accredited educational institution (any discipline)
  • Associate’s degree in Paralegal Studies from an American Bar Association (ABA) – approved program
  • Certificate from an ABA-approved Paralegal Studies program

All American Alliance Certified Paralegals (AACP) must renew their certification every two years as well as complete 18 hours of continuing legal education to remain in good standing. Two hours of the continuing education credits must be in the area of ethics.

National Federation of Paralegal Associations

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) offers professional recognition to paralegals who have a Bachelor’s degree and at least two years of in the field. Applicants are required to pass an exam to obtain their Registered Paralegal (RP) designation. A certified RP must complete 2 hours of continuing education every two years to keep their credentials current.

National Association of Legal Secretaries

The National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS) offers certification programs for members and non-members at three different levels:

  • Accredited Legal Secretary (basic certification)
  • Professional Legal Secretary (advanced certification for more experienced workers)
  • Professional Paralegal

As of November 2010, 2,885 people have received their Accredited Legal Secretary designations, while 5,614 are Professional Legal Secretaries. In addition, 474 people are Professional Paralegals.

Applicants must pass an exam to receive one of these designations. After certification, an individual must complete 75 hours of continuing education to remain in good standing.

Paralegals who are interested in finding out about certification should contact their state Bar Association to find out whether it offers any programs. Local legal associations are another source of information about certification programs for people who would like to be formally recognized for their expertise in this area.

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