Paralegal Certification Overview
In order to work as a paralegal, also known as a legal assistant, no certification is required. However, many employers prefer legal assistants who are certified because certification is an indicator of a level of competency of the paralegal across practice areas. In order to increase marketability, students considering careers as paralegals should explore the advantages of pursuing a paralegal certificate. Here are the steps to receiving paralegal certification.
Research Paralegal Certification Organizations
There are several organizations that sponsor paralegal certification examinations and confer certified paralegal designations, including the National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc. (NALA), the National Federation of Paralegal Association, Inc. (NFPA), the National Association for Legal Professionals (NALS), and the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI). Each organization requires the applicant to meet its own set of eligibility requirements before being permitted to sit for the certification examination. Anyone wishing to become a paralegal should contact each organization to find out the eligibility requirements for sitting for the certification exam as well as fees and any additional requirements for certification. The applicant can then decide to which sponsor organization he or she should apply for paralegal certification.
Required Educational and Work Background
The first step in pursuing a paralegal certificate is to complete the required education. NALA, NFPA and AAPI applicants can meet the eligibility requirement by having a bachelor’s degree. None of the organizations require that the applicant have taken a paralegal-related curriculum. Any major is acceptable. Alternatively, NALA, NFPA and AAPI will also accept applicants who have associate’s degrees in paralegal studies. All 4 organizations accept applicants who have significant paralegal work experience and the AAPI requires applicants to have 5 years of paralegal work experience.
Take the Certification Examination
The next step in becoming a certified paralegal is to take the certification examination. The NALA, NFPA and NALS exams test applicants on a wide variety of topics including substantive areas of law such as family law, criminal law, constitutional law, and administrative law. The exam also tests knowledge of legal research skills, legal writing, the US court system, legal terminology, ethics, and law office management.
The AAPI does not require applicants to take a certification exam.
In order to be certified, an applicant may be required to submit to a background investigation. An applicant may be disqualified if he or she has been convicted of a felony, or if anything else is discovered that reflects poorly on the applicant’s character.
Maintaining Certified Status
Once an applicant has received certification, the sponsoring organization may require the paralegal to pay annual fees and take continuing education classes in order to maintain certification status.