Since 2000, California has regulated paralegals. According to California Business and Professions Code section 6450(a) paralegal means:
“A person who holds himself or herself out to be a paralegal, who is qualified by education, training, or work experience, who either contracts with or is employed by an attorney, law firm, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity, and who performs substantial legal work under the direction and supervision of an active member of the State Bar of California, as defined in Section 6060, or an attorney practicing law in the federal courts of this state, that has been specifically delegated by the attorney to him or her.”
Under Business and Professions Code section 6450(c), a paralegal must possess at least one of the following:
In order to obtain ABA approval a paralegal program, the awarding institution, “Must demonstrate that its program is consistent with sound educational policies by establishing that it operates accordance with its guidelines.”
ABA-approved schools are also required to complete a series of self-evaluation forms to ensure compliance with the ABA Guidelines and all major changed must be approved prior to implementation. As of 2022, there are approximately 66 colleges and universities that offer paralegal degree programs and 51 schools that offer certificate programs.
There are approximately 300 ABA-approved programs in the United States with 33 in California.
How long it takes to earn a paralegal certificate will depend on the program you choose.
Twenty-four semester hours is the equivalent of eight three-hour courses. Attending classes on a part-time basis, this can take 12 to 24 months. Some schools offer accelerated programs as short as 12 weeks and paralegal degree programs can take 2 to 4 years to complete. Post-COVID, many programs are online, opening up the possibilities of picking the program that best meets your needs.
With everything it depends on the program and the length of the program. The average cost is between $5,000 and $14,000, with degree programs (AA, AS, BA, and MA) costing between $12,000 and $47,000. An ABA-approved program for legal studies certification can be expected to cost in the former range, while full degrees will naturally be more.
A proficient paralegal possesses a diverse set of skills vital for supporting legal operations.
The following highlights key attributes crucial for success in the dynamic legal landscape, encompassing legal research, communication, organizational prowess, and ethical judgment, among others.
I am always surprised at how many legal professionals do not know the difference between a paralegal certificate and a certified paralegal. The terms are not interchangeable, and each have separate meanings.
A paralegal certificate means the paralegal is qualified under Business and Professions Code section 6450(c)(1) or (2) to work in California as a paralegal.
A person who has completed a paralegal education or training program may be awarded a certificate of completion. Although the number of hours may vary by institution, the minimum is 24.
A certified paralegal is someone who has, in addition to meeting the requirements of 6450(c), has also successfully complete a certification exam and/or requirements of the certifying agency. Once this additional criterion has been met, the designation certified paralegal can be used. Certification is currently voluntary.
The National Association of Paralegals (NALA) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) offer certification for paralegals.
To be eligible to take the NALA CP exam, a paralegal must meet one of the following requirements:
Since 1973, NALA has certified 20,898 paralegals with an average pass rate of 68%. NALA offers the Certified Paralegal exam and the Advanced Certified Paralegal certification program.
Paralegals who pass the exam or complete the requirements for Advanced Certified Paralegal may use the designations CP and ACP after their name.
NFPA offers two credentialing exams:
Eligibility requirements vary depending on the PCCE or PACE. The pass rate for the PACE is 86%.
Every two years, commencing January 1, 2007, any person that is working as a paralegal shall be required to certify completion of four hours of mandatory continuing legal education in legal ethics and four hours of mandatory continuing legal education in either general law or in an area of specialized law.
Many bar associations and paralegal organizations offer mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) in a variety of topics.
Every year in April, One Legal presents LegalUp; an online, two-day event of networking and MCLE opportunities for legal professionals. Having participated for several years as both an attendee and for the last two years as a presenter, I highly recommend this worthwhile program, it’s a great example of one of the many online conferences that offer MCLE for paralegals today. I would suggest subscribing to One Legal’s blog to stay in touch and get updates about future LegalUp conferences next year and beyond.
In addition to the California requirements, both NALA and NFPA have their own requirements for re-certification.
The tasks assigned to a legal secretary and paralegal will vary depending on the practice area and the size of the law firm.
Generally speaking, paralegals operate under attorney supervision, performing tasks such as legal research, document drafting, case management, and client communication.
On the other hand, legal secretaries provide administrative support, managing communications, documents, schedules, and client interactions.
Both roles are essential, with paralegals handling legal tasks and secretaries focusing on administrative duties, ensuring smooth operations and effective client service.
Here’s a rundown of the distinct responsibilities of both.
Paralegals have important responsibilities and mistakes can have serious ramifications not only for the attorney employing the paralegal, but also for the client. California has recognized the important role of the paralegal by regulating persons using the title of paralegal to meet certain educational qualifications and continuing legal education requirements.
The role of a paralegal in California is essential to the legal system, providing vital support to attorneys in diverse aspects of their work. Their combination of legal expertise and practical skills, including conducting research, drafting legal documents, and assisting in case preparation, contributes significantly to the efficiency of the legal field.
I hope this article has explored the journey to becoming a paralegal, encompassing educational prerequisites, certification options, skill development, and networking opportunities. By navigating these requirements and pathways, aspiring paralegals can forge a fulfilling career while making substantial contributions to the effectiveness of the legal sector.
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