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What is a Certified Paralegal?

Professional certification in the working environment is a voluntary process through which a non-government entity grants recognition to a person for having met predetermined criteria education requirements or experience. Both employers and professionals within the paralegal career discipline respect and honor the certification process.

Certification for paralegals is a voluntary process. A certified paralegal, to maintain their certification, may need to fulfill ongoing educational requirements to keep their certifications up to date. While certification is not a requirement by law, it helps professionals gain an advantage over other paralegals in the job market who may not be certified.

Certified and uncertified paralegals can be qualified to assist lawyers with a large variety of legal tasks. Quite often, the term legal assistant is substituted in describing these professionals. Certified paralegals work under the close supervision of lawyers.

Paralegals can also complete many of the same duties as a lawyer, but cannot actually argue a case in a court or provide legal advice to a client. There may be some exceptions to this rule in certain cases that involved specific circumstances. However, a paralegal cannot develop the attorney-client relationship, or sign papers on behalf of the client. The paralegal cannot set and collect legal fees.

What Are Certifying Boards?

A certifying board is an entity responsible for determining the content and setting the standards for administration of the certified paralegal program. The boards typically consist of experienced paralegals holding an advanced paralegal certification designation. Board members can form the content and the subject mix for each section of the exam. There are several respected organizations providing Certified Paralegal or Certified Legal Assistant programs and exams including National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI), and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA).

How Do I Become a Certified Paralegal?

The following steps can prepare a person to take the examination administered by a certifying organization.

  1. The first step in becoming a certified paralegal is to learn more about the various credentialing bodies. In many cases, achieving certification designates paralegals as a Certified Paralegal (CP), Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or other since the terms paralegal and legal assistant in may cases may be identical.
  2. Make sure you meet all the eligibility requirements to take the certification exam. You may be eligible if you’ve completed a paralegal’s education through an approved program. One year of legal experience with a bachelor’s degree in some areas also qualifies a person to take the exam.
  3. If you’re currently in high school, check with a guidance counselor for recommendations of accredited schools offering paralegal training.
  4. Make a list of schools in your area offering training, and arrange a campus visit.
  5. Gather as much information from as many legitimate sources as possible.

What Do Certified Paralegals Do?

The paralegal profession requires working professions in the filed to obtain an in-depth knowledge of things pertaining to the legal field. Individuals can be well-organized and detail-oriented to achieve success.

Much of the work that certified paralegals stage requires a great deal of paperwork and research. Paralegals quite often perform the tasks that may free up lawyers so lawyers can work on larger cases.

Certified paralegals perform, but are not limited to, the following duties:

  • Interact with clients
  • Help prepare cases
  • Perform legal research
  • Assist lawyers in the courtroom

Certified paralegals, however, cannot set legal fees, offer legal advice, or present cases in a court of law.

Career Advancement for Certified Paralegals

Experienced and qualified paralegals may be qualified to search for several opportunities within related career fields, such as law firms, government agencies or insurance companies.

Career possibilities can be advanced for individuals based on performance, local market conditions and personal skills and knowledge. Other paralegals want to give themselves a promotion and become a lawyer.

Glossary of Terms for Certified Paralegals

National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)

NALA designs the exam subject matter and sets the standards for how the certified paralegal program is administered.

National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)

Provides Continuing Legal Education Credentialing for paralegals and legal assistants. Additionally, NFPA is an issues-driven, policy-oriented professional association directed by its membership dedicated to the advancement of the paralegal profession and leadership in the legal community.

The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI)

The AAPI has established a voluntary program for the certification of paralegals adhering to standards and procedures including experience level plus a certificate, degree or higher from an ABA-approved paralegal program, adherence to a Code of Ethics, and proof of continuing education.

Certified Legal Assistant  (CLA)

A certified legal assistant is a legal assistant who has has taken the next step in the career advancement process and successfully completed the examination for the CLA credential. It implies individuals may be well trained with in-depth knowledge of the legal field. The certification inspires confidence in the ability of a person being able to perform his or her role in a legal environment.

Certified Paralegal (CP)A certified paralegal is a paralegal who has successfully completed the examination for the CP credential and is able to demonstrate a high level of commitment to the profession and is able to demonstrate authority over legal procedures, ethics and substantive law.

If you have the passion to work in the legal field, contact us today to learn more about how you can start training for a personally fulfilling and widely respected career working in the legal field.

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