No matter how much experience they have, paralegals can no more consider themselves “experts” in the law than attorneys can. Changes happen every day, and the law is a moving target, so there will always be more to learn about statutes and legal precedent in the nation and in your individual city and state.
That’s what continuing legal education (CLE) can do: help those in the legal industry stay on top of changes and new issues that arise in the industry. While licensing or certification may not be required for paralegals and legal support staff, CLE courses can help advance their career and increase their value to employers.
All states require mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) for licensed attorneys. But while many legal professionals support the pursuit of continuing legal education for paralegals, there is still a lack of consensus on mandatory CLE, with a few exceptions.
Every two years, California requires paralegals to complete four hours of continuing education in legal ethics and four hours in either general law or a specialized area of law. All CLE courses must meet state requirements, and the paralegal is responsible for keeping a record of their own certifications.
Active and associate members of the Paralegal Division of the State Bar of Texas are required to obtain six hours of CLE per year. The division accepts substantive law CLE presented or approved by the relevant state or federal legal associations.
Certification and CLE for paralegals
No state currently requires licensure for paralegals, so while mandatory certification of paralegals has been a subject of debate for many years, it remains voluntary in all states.
The American Bar Association approves paralegal education programs but does not certify paralegals. Some State Bar Associations, like Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas, offer certification programs for paralegals, but most do not.
There are several independent paralegal organizations, however, that offer programs to help paralegals obtain voluntary certification, including:
- NALA: Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or Certified Paralegal (CP) or Paralegal (RP)
- NFPA: (National Federation of Paralegal Associations) Core Competency and Advanced Competency Exams (PCCE and PACE®)
- NALS: (Association for Legal Professionals) two paralegal certifications.
- AAPI: (American Alliance of Paralegals) American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP)
When paralegals join the American Bar Association (ABA), they get access to both distance learning and in-person events, at discounted pricing. Courses often include topics like taxation, trial practice, criminal law, litigation, ethics, copyright, and bankruptcy.
Once certified, paralegals are required to meet certain continuing education legal requirements to maintain whatever certification they have earned. Credit for continuing legal education is awarded through most CLE programs where the subject matter is related to paralegal work.
Participation in the following types of programs may qualify:
- Conferences, seminars, or webinars offered by paralegal organizations or bar associations
- Providing instruction in a paralegal program, or teaching a session at a CLE seminar
- Completion of an online educational program or class at an accredited college
- Achievement of an advanced paralegal certification through a credentialed program
If you know of other resources to help paralegals earn valuable CLE credits, tell us about it in the comments!