There are many organizations and associations that exist solely to enhance the legal careers of paralegals.
As a former California trial attorney, I know how hard paralegals work, how smart they have to be to do their jobs, how little thanks they get, and how important the paralegal community is to many of them.
Indeed, there’s almost a shocking number of organizations offering education, certification, advocacy, and resources especially for paralegals. In today’s blog, we’ve compiled a list of the best of the top 10 professional organizations for California paralegals, but there are many more that we didn’t have space to include.
We hope you’re able to find your professional niche among this list, but if not, don’t worry. There’s almost certainly an organization that suits you perfectly.
#1: California Alliance of Paralegal Associations
The California Alliance of Paralegal Associations (“CAPA”) is like a clearinghouse of all things paralegal in California.
CAPA is a state-wide organization that incorporates 10 separate regional paralegal associations. According to CAPA’s website, the organization’s mission is “strength through statewide alliance – providing a voice of leadership in promoting education, voluntary examination, and advancement of the paralegal profession.”
CAPA provides education, certification programs, and a resource library, all of which are critical for California paralegals who want to excel in their profession.
Their website is also a good place to look for jobs and network with other professionals.
If you’re looking for a general career development resource, CAPA is a great starting point.
#2: NALA: The paralegal association
NALA was founded in 1975 as the “National Association of Legal Assistants.” While the organization retains that acronym, it now describes itself as “the paralegal association.”
NALA provides education, certification, and resources on a national scale.
The organization also hosts yearly conferences that include speakers, exhibits, sponsors, and as much information as you can absorb about the profession.
Importantly, NALA also publishes a Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility for Paralegals, which is akin to the ABA’s model rules for attorneys.
#3: National Federation of Paralegal Associations
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (“NFPA”) was the first national organization created solely for paralegals.
NFPA does a lot of work around policy and legislation that impacts paralegals including the expanding substantive legal roles of paralegals, monitoring ethics rules and regulations, and employment/wage issues pertaining to paralegals.
Like the other top organizations, NFPA also provides education, training, employment, and certification resources.
Interestingly, however, NFPA also offers the opportunity to do pro bono work for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Operation Gratitude, and other charitable organizations.
So, if you’re feeling like you want to use your legal training to make a difference in the world, why not apply to help out? These opportunities can help you connect with others who have similar values.
#4: American Bar Association
The American Bar Association (ABA) has a “Standing Committee on Paralegals,” the mission of which is to “improve the American system of justice by establishing ABA standards for the education of paralegals and by promoting attorneys’ professional, effective and ethical utilization of paralegal services.”
The relationship between attorneys and paralegals is unique and, quite frankly, it can be fraught with problems.
The Standing Committee is a good place for paralegals to voice their thoughts, concerns, and ideas regarding the ethical and ongoing relationships between these two types of professionals.
#5: American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.
Founded in 2003, the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (“AAPI”) is one of the newer paralegal organizations on the national scene.
According to its website, AAPI was formed for paralegals who didn’t necessarily feel like they fit in with some of the other organizations. Perhaps fittingly then, the group’s mission is to “advance the paralegal profession by focusing on the individual paralegal.”
AAPI offers the American Alliance Certified Paralegal program for those who are seeking an additional level of certification.
Like the other national organizations, it also offers education and job seeking resources. You can never have too many of those, right?
#6: National Association for Legal Support Professionals
Of all the national paralegal organizations, NALS seems particularly interested in providing members with the latest news and headlines that impact the paralegal community.
NALS also offers a large networking component and has membership affiliates at the state and local levels for those of you who want hands-on participation without leaving town.
You’ll find extensive training and certification programs including web-based CLEs and other training materials for those who want to learn from their desktop. One of their values is to engage on your terms, so you’ll find more flexibility here than some other organizations offer.
#7: American Association for Justice – Paralegal Affiliates
The American Association for Justice is actually an association for trial lawyers.
So, why do we mention it here?
Well, among other reasons, each year AAJ allows attorneys to nominate a paralegal to win the “National Paralegal of the Year” award to an outstanding member of the profession. AAJ also maintains a database of past winners in case you’re interested in studying the careers of those who are deemed to be exceptional within the profession.
In case you’re wondering, this year’s winner is Olga A. Patterson of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley of West Palm Beach, Florida. Congratulations, Olga!
#8: International Practice Management Association
IPMA is vastly different from the other organizations on this list, but it is no less important.
The International Practice Management Association exists for legal professionals who are in the position of leading other legal professionals. In other words, it is a professional development organization that seeks to enhance your career as a manager.
If your duties at your firm include managing law clerks, legal secretaries, or other paralegals, this might be a great organization for you.
IPMA offers written resources, webinars, an annual conference/expo, and — importantly — a yearly salary survey for legal professionals.
#9: American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants
AALNC is our most specialized organization on the list.
As the name implies, AALNC exists as a professional community for those ultra-smart individuals who are trained as both nurses and legal nurse consultants (many hold paralegal certificates).
Among other things, AALNC offers training and peer-to-peer communications on topics including providing expert witness testimony, writing reports, and navigating personal injury cases.
This organization is a great resource for the established medical professional who is just diving into the medical-legal world.
#10: California regional paralegal associations
Finally, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention California’s numerous local and regional paralegal associations. Those organizations include:
Sacramento Valley Paralegal Association
San Francisco Paralegal Association
Orange County Paralegal Association
Los Angeles Paralegal Association
Paralegal Association of Santa Clara County
If you don’t see your local chapter on the list, try a quick Google search.
Indeed, if there’s one thing we learned from writing this blog, it’s that there is no shortage of resources for paralegals. All you have to do is look for them.