Paralegal certificate or certification?

The San Francisco Paralegal Association posted a great article from the Estrin Report archives earlier this month! The article tackles the difference between having a paralegal certificate versus a paralegal certification. The terms often get confused and the consequences can be serious. Rather than summarize the article, we have reposted it below. We want to know your thoughts! Have you run into this type of situation?

I’m on my soapbox today with a pet peeve. I noticed that some paralegals are putting “ABA Certified Paralegal” on their resumes, social media or announcing it to friends and employers. Here’s a suggestion: Stop now while you still can! Save yourself some embarrassment or even keep yourself from getting rejected from a job!

The ABA does not offer certification. Certification is a process of taking a very rigorous exam that is based upon work experience and knowledge. It is not your final exam in paralegal school. Generally, you need to meet certain educational and work experience requirements, submit an application for approval, pay a fee and take the exam in a secure environment.

For example, The Organization of Legal Professionals, OLP, offers a certification exam in eDiscovery. National Association of Legal Assistants, NALA, and The National Federation of Paralegal Associations, NFPA, both offer paralegal certification exams. In the case of NALA, paralegals sit for the exam for two and a half days taking a test. It’s also very hard to pass this exam. If the paralegal does pass, they can use the letters CLA (Certified Legal Assistant) or CP (Certified Paralegal) after their name. The ABA does not issue any designation or letters that you can use after your name. That’s because they don’t offer certification and you did not sit for a certification exam.

Generally, what paralegals mistakenly refer to as “ABA Certified Paralegal” is the certificate that they were given upon completion of paralegal school. This is entirely different from certification. A certificate from paralegal school is a Certificate of Completion. The paralegal school these paralegals attended has been approved by the ABA. Out of approximately 1500 or so paralegal schools in the U.S., only about 280 have been approved by the ABA. The school must meet certain qualifications set down by the ABA in order to gain approval. When a student completes the 4 month, 2 year or 4 year program, they are given a certificate of completion. They are not certified.

The reason I am pointing this out is that I just witnessed a paralegal who was passed up for a very good job because she wrote “ABA Certified Paralegal” on her resume. The firm decided that if this paralegal did not know the difference between “certified” and “certificated”, she wasn’t smart enough to join the firm. Ouch! It was a shame because the message to the paralegal was not only did she not know the difference, she hadn’t take the time to find out. Make that 0 points in her job hunting file. Resumes are often reviewed by hiring paralegals who do know the difference and it’s offensive to some when they see otherwise good paralegals make this common mistake.

So, those of you who are adding “ABA Certified Paralegal” to your resume, LinkedIn profile, Facebook, or telling people verbally, STOP! The best way to write it is:

Acme & Acme Paralegal School
An ABA approved paralegal program or
Approved by the American Bar Association

So, paralegals unite! Help yourself and your colleagues. Stamp out ignorance! Educate others and spread the word! (Oops, almost slipped off my soapbox there…..)

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About the Author

Program Manager for One Legal’s Justice Group. I have 40 years of legal support experience and rode my bike to court to do my first filing at the age of 13. When I’m not riding (over 3000 miles last year!) or working with our court customers I love to meditate by cooking, especially on the BBQ.

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