Lawyer’s have assistants that are known as paralegals or legal assistant who help with lawyer’s work but are not licensed law practitioners. Paralegals help lawyers prepare for court appearances and meetings and as such are highly knowledgeable of the ins and outs of legal proceedings, cases, and trials. Their aid is vital in making sure that lawyers accomplish their tasks in a timely manner.
One of the essentials in becoming a paralegal, besides education and training is the certificate. Paralegal certification gives the candidate the advantage in the field because the certificate is considered as the true mark, an unbiased evaluation of a candidate’s ability as a potential or current paralegal. It is proof that the candidate can do the job. It is not really required but it helps because it gives the paralegal the respect needed in the legal profession as well as a bargaining chip when looking to enter the field. Certification is not forever; it must be renewed in a process that involves hours of continuing education and by doing so proves to the employer that the candidate has passion for the job.
Different organizations offer certification credentials and they require that applicants pass an exam after meeting a certain set of requirements—typically a mixture of education and experience. The exam aims to test the candidate’s knowledge in oral and written communications, ethics, legal research, analysis, judgment, contracts administration, trial practice, dispute resolution, and trademarks. In the United States, organizations that offer paralegal certification are the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS) and American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.
There are different paralegal certifications in the United States to choose from and each has a reputation and history behind them. NALS was established in 1929, and incorporated in 1949, but has only been offering the PP exam since 2004. The NALA was established in 1975, and offers the oldest paralegal certification—the CLA/CP credential has been offered since 1976. Founded in 1974, the NFPA began offering its Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) for the RP credential in 1996. The AAPI, which was founded in 2003, is the youngest organization. Unlike the other organizations, it does not have an exam. Instead, the AAPI grants the AACP credential based on a paralegal’s education and experience. Qualification for these certifications varies among the different governing bodies. Some look at experience while other look at the hours spent in education.
The best advice comes from lawyers themselves. Lawyers can help paralegals choose the right certification for them because they are the ones who hire paralegals and are aware of what their firm needs.