Close

8 benefits of becoming a certified paralegal

Benefits Of Becoming Certified Paralegal
While obtaining a paralegal credential is a voluntary certification process that can improve a resume, it’s not an entry-level requirement to enter the field. Here are 8 reasons why paralegals should consider becoming certified.

According to the National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc. (NALA), more than 12,000 paralegals have earned the professional designation “Certified Paralegal” (CP) since the organization began sponsoring the certification exam in 1976.

While obtaining a certified paralegal credential is a voluntary certification process that can improve a resume, it’s not an entry-level requirement to enter the field. So why should a paralegal consider becoming certified?

1. Employer expectations

Becoming a certified paralegal can demonstrate to employers the commitment a paralegal has to the profession and represents mastery of certain skills and knowledge necessary for success in the industry.

While many employers don’t have a preference as to whether or not a paralegal be certified, it is usually best to check job descriptions and employer preferences to see if this could be a requirement to land a certain position.

2. Competitive edge

Years ago, when the supply of paralegals was much smaller than the demand for them, entry-level paralegals could enter the field with no certification, degree, or even experience. But in the last couple of decades, competition in the field has increased dramatically.

Now, certification is becoming the standard that can improve professional credibility. If you’re looking for a way to set yourself apart when it comes to applying for jobs, a paralegal certificate can help you highlight why you are the better choice for the job.

3. Enhanced marketability for the firm

The most marketable law firms have a culture of thought leadership and don’t just hire qualified lawyers and paralegals — they especially value thought leaders.

A law firm that employs only certified paralegals can market itself as such, advertising that both its attorneys and paralegal staff possess the specialization and experience necessary to handle the most complicated cases and legal issues.

Pointing this out to your supervisor can even help if you are hoping to convince your law firm to help pay for the certificate program, or if you want to ensure that you will be allowed flexible hours.

4. Increased client satisfaction

Certified paralegals have demonstrated that they have the level of competence required to pass a certification exam and maintain the credential. This ability is not lost on clients, who want their matters handled by experienced professionals.

Attorneys also know the value of keeping clients happy and meeting their expectations as efficiently as possible.

They understand that certified paralegals have additional training on how to handle clients and keep them coming back. Not to mention making clients more likely to elicit referrals, the backbone of any successful law practice.

5. Higher income potential

Another advantage of paralegal certification is the potential to earn a higher income, both in salary as well as benefits — an average salary increase of $4,880, according to NALA.

This increase is due in part to the very fact that a paralegal certification is not required, and so is considered additional knowledge obtained voluntarily. Which inherently makes a certified paralegal more valuable and an asset to a law firm or legal department.

6. Sharpening their skills

While achieving paralegal certification is a challenge on its own, in order to maintain this credential, certified paralegals are required to continuously update their knowledge. NALA requires paralegals to undergo recertification every five years, and to be eligible, they must:

  • Complete a minimum of 50 clock hours of Continuing Legal Education (CLE)
  • Obtain at least five hours of ethics training (included in the 50-hour CLE requirement)
  • Affirm that they have not been convicted of a felony
  • Pay a recertification fee of $125

Since recertification renewal requires multiple training courses, certified paralegals are continually refreshing their knowledge and staying up to date on developments within the legal industry.

7. Staying ahead of the curve

Although paralegal certification is a voluntary process, as laws change and the legal industry continues to grow, states are expected to begin to require certification.

Becoming certified prior to any future legislation could save time and money and reduce the inconvenience of such mandates. Paralegals who have earned certification will likely be ahead of those who need to return to school or obtain certification should it become mandatory in their state.

8. Preparing to move on

For paralegals who plan to eventually attend law school and become attorneys, passing a paralegal certification exam is a step ahead that will require them to gain in-depth knowledge of certain practice areas and prepare them to take the rigorous Law School Admission Test (LSAT), before law school.

How do you become a certified paralegal?

To become a certified paralegal, you typically need to complete certain educational requirements and obtain certification from a recognized paralegal association.

The specific requirements may vary depending on your location and the certifying organization you choose.

Here are the general steps to becoming a certified paralegal:

Research the requirements

Start by researching the paralegal certification requirements in your jurisdiction.

For example, to become a certified paralegal in California, you can pursue certification through the California Alliance of Paralegal Associations (CAPA) or other recognized organizations.

The requirements to obtain certification as a paralegal in California, specifically through CAPA, include:

  • Education: Complete a paralegal program that meets CAPA’s educational requirements. The program should be approved by the American Bar Association (ABA), the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE), or an accredited institution. CAPA accepts various combinations of education and experience, including completion of an ABA-approved paralegal program, a bachelor’s degree in any field plus a paralegal certificate, or a minimum of three years of substantive legal experience.
  • Examination: Pass the Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal (CLA/CP) examination offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) or the Paralegal Core Competency Exam (PCCE) offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). CAPA recognizes both exams.
  • Experience: Complete a minimum of one year (2,000 hours) of substantive paralegal work experience, which can be obtained before or after taking the certification exam.
  • Continuing education: Once certified, maintain your certification by fulfilling the continuing education requirements set by CAPA. You are required to complete at least 18 hours of continuing education every two years.

It’s important to note that the requirements may change over time, so it is recommended to visit the CAPA website or contact them directly for the most up-to-date information on certification requirements in California.

Meet educational requirements

The education requirements to become a paralegal can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific employer’s preferences.

While some employers may hire paralegals with a high school diploma or equivalent and provide on-the-job training, many prefer candidates with formal education in paralegal studies. Here are the standard educational paths for aspiring paralegals:

  • Associate degree in paralegal studies: An associate degree in paralegal studies is a common educational path for paralegals. These programs typically take around two years to complete and provide a comprehensive foundation in legal concepts, research, and practical skills relevant to the paralegal profession.
  • Bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies: Some colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs specifically in paralegal studies. These programs usually take four years to complete and provide a more extensive education in legal theory, research, and practical skills. A bachelor’s degree can also offer broader career opportunities within the legal field.
  • Bachelor’s degree in another field with paralegal certificate: If you already have a bachelor’s degree in a field other than paralegal studies, you can consider obtaining a paralegal certificate. Paralegal certificate programs are typically shorter in duration compared to degree programs and focus specifically on the skills and knowledge needed to work as a paralegal. Completing a certificate program in conjunction with a bachelor’s degree can enhance your qualifications and marketability.
  • Post-baccalaureate or Master’s Degree in Paralegal Studies: Some universities offer post-baccalaureate or master’s degree programs in paralegal studies for individuals who already hold a bachelor’s degree in any field. These programs provide advanced education and may focus on specialized areas of law or management in the legal field. They can be beneficial for career advancement or individuals interested in pursuing leadership roles in the paralegal profession.

It’s important to research and choose a program that is accredited by a recognized accrediting body or approved by a reputable legal or paralegal association. Accreditation ensures that the program meets certain educational standards and enhances your credibility as a paralegal candidate.

Gain work experience

Some employers may hire paralegals with little to no prior work experience. These positions often provide on-the-job training and are suitable for individuals who have recently completed a paralegal program or have limited legal experience.

Entry-level paralegal roles can be an excellent opportunity to gain practical experience and develop the skills required for more advanced positions.

Other employers, however, may specify a minimum number of years of work experience as a paralegal.

This requirement can vary widely, ranging from one to several years. This is typically seen in mid-level or senior paralegal positions that involve more complex tasks and responsibilities.

Internships during your paralegal studies or after completing your program can be valuable for gaining practical experience. These opportunities allow you to work in a legal setting under the supervision of experienced professionals and can enhance your skills and knowledge.

Even if you don’t have direct paralegal experience, certain skills gained from related fields or professions can be valuable.

For example, experience in legal administration, legal research, writing, document management, or customer service can be transferable skills that can help you in a paralegal role.

Additionally, volunteering for legal organizations or participating in pro bono work can provide valuable experience, demonstrate your commitment to the field, and help you establish professional connections that may lead to job opportunities in the future.

Apply for certification

Once you’ve met the educational and experience requirements, apply for certification with the chosen organization. This typically involves submitting an application form, providing supporting documentation (such as transcripts and work experience verification), and paying the required fees.

  • Prepare for the certification exam: Many certifying organizations require candidates to pass a certification exam. The exam evaluates your knowledge and skills in various areas of law and paralegal practice. Study guides, practice exams, and review courses are often available to help you prepare. Dedicate time to study and review the exam content thoroughly.
  • Take the certification exam: Schedule the certification exam according to the guidelines provided by the organization. The exam is usually administered in person at a designated testing center or online, depending on the organization’s policies. Be prepared to demonstrate your knowledge and skills in areas such as legal research, writing, ethics, and substantive law.

Maintaining paralegal certification

Once you pass the certification exam and become a certified paralegal, you may need to meet certain continuing education requirements to maintain your certification. These requirements typically involve completing a certain number of continuing education credits or attending approved seminars and workshops to stay updated on legal developments.

Remember to check the specific requirements of the certifying organization you choose, as the process and criteria may vary. It’s also helpful to network with other paralegals and professionals in the legal field to gain insights and guidance on the certification process.

Conclusion

Becoming a certified paralegal offers numerous benefits for your career in the legal field. These benefits include professional recognition, enhanced career opportunities, increased job prospects, access to professional networks, continuing education, adherence to ethical standards, and personal satisfaction.

Certification demonstrates your knowledge, skills, and commitment to the paralegal profession, making you a more competitive candidate for employment and advancement. It provides validation of your expertise and allows you to stay updated on legal developments, ensuring you deliver high-quality work.

Ultimately, obtaining certification as a paralegal can contribute to your professional growth, credibility, and overall job satisfaction.

One Legal: Delightfully easy eFiling

One Legal Dashboard
Manage all your California and Nevada court filing from a single platform. Receive status updates and court-returned documents online while we handle all the logistics of getting your documents filed. Find out more about eFiling with One Legal now.
Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    More to explore

    What is One Legal?

    We’re California’s leading litigation services platform, offering eFiling, process serving, and courtesy copy delivery in all 58 California counties. Our simple, dependable platform is trusted by over 20,000 law firms to file and serve over a million cases each year.

    One Legal Dashboard