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Many paralegals obtain their knowledge and understanding of the tasks associated with the job through on-the-job experience. Others may complete paralegal certification programs that generally have durations of 18 to 24 months. Some paralegals are graduates of bachelor's or master's degree paralegal programs. People with degrees in unrelated fields usually complete additional training for certification.
In most states, legal assistants or paralegals are not required to have specific training and education. As the legal profession evolves and the paralegal position becomes more competitive, people who are seeking employment as paralegals can enhance their chances by earning a paralegal certification from a recognized organization.
It is important to understand that there are paralegal programs that bestow diplomas or certificates to students who have completed the requirements of that particular training program. This is different from paralegal certification, which is a professional designation generally awarded by professional paralegal organizations. Individuals who wish to become certified must usually meet certain conditions spelled out by the organization offering the certification, which may include educational and work experience stipulations.
In most cases, there is also a continuing education requirement that must be met periodically. Following are four organizations that are currently awarding paralegal certification to eligible professionals.
American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.
The goal of the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI), is to promote the paralegal field by concentrating on the overall development of the professionals employed in the field. The AAPI certification program includes minimum training and experience criteria that all candidates must meet to earn the designation. This paralegal certification requires at least 5 years of paralegal experience.
Candidates have three options for meeting the AAPI's educational requirements: (1) a bachelor's degree from an accredited school; (2) an associate's degree from a paralegal program, which must be approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) or is a voting member of the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAPE); or (3) candidates who have earned a certificate from an ABA-accredited paralegal curriculum or a school that is a voting member of the AAPE.
National Association of Legal Assistants
The National Association of Legal Assistants
(NALA) is considered by many to be the leading professional organization in the paralegal field. It is a nonprofit entity that provides paralegal certification and development programs. The NALA has been offering the Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal (CLA/CP) program since 1976. Over 18,000 paralegals are associated with the NALA; 15,000 or more have earned the CLA/CP credentials. The certification examination is comprised of five components and candidates must receive at least a 70 percent pass rate on each section to earn the professional designation.
National Federation of Paralegal Associations
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) was started in 1974 and has the distinction of being the first nationwide paralegal organization. It is a nonprofit association that is made up of over 50 member organizations and has more than 11,000 associates. NFPA offers a paralegal certification that can be earned by successfully passing the Paralegal Advance Competency Exam (PACE). Candidates must have at least 2 years of paralegal work experience and meet one of the following requirements:
- Earn an associate's degree in a paralegal program from an accredited institution and/ or an ABA-accredited paralegal curriculum and possess 6 years of significant paralegal work history.
- Earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and possess 3 years of paralegal experience.
- Have a bachelor's degree and successfully complete a recognized paralegal training program. The paralegal program may be part of the formal training for the bachelor's degree; also, 2 years of paralegal work experience is required.
- Possess at least 4 years of extensive paralegal work history gained on or before December 31, 2000.
Naional Association of Legal Secretaries
The National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS) has been in existence since 1929. Members and nonmembers of the NALS can earn three types of certification related to the legal profession; they have been offering paralegal certification since 2004. The professional paralegal (PP) is geared toward individuals who work as paralegals. People who complete the required examination must demonstrate competency in the areas of communication, procedural law and document preparation. Candidates must also have extensive knowledge of substantive law and display a high level of ethical standards