One important concern that should be on your radar as a paralegal student is the wide array of paralegal certifications available to graduates of paralegal degree programs (See: Paralegal Training).
Paralegal certification is offered by any of several legal organizations, such as the ones listed below. Though paralegal certification isn’t usually required, it is highly valued among legal firms and corporations, and a certification added to your title can help your employability a great deal.
There are four major groups that offer specific certification procedures. In no particular order, they are:
- National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- Paralegals who pass the NALA’s two-day exam can be credentialed as Certified Legal Assistants (CLA) or Certified Paralegals (CP). NALA also offers the Advanced Paralegal certification as an online program for experienced paralegals who wish to specialize.
- American Alliance of Paralegals (AACP)
- The AACP offers the American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) credential to paralegals with at least five years of paralegal experience who meet one of three educational criteria.
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- This group offers the Registered Paralegal (RP) designation to paralegals with at least two years experience and a Bachelor’s degree, who pass an exam. RP re-certification requires 75 additional hours of continuing education.
- National Association for Legal Professionals (NALP)
- NALP offers the Professional Paralegal (PP) certification, which can be achieved through a four-part test.
As part of certification, paralegals are expected to participate in continuing education. They must keep up with changes in the law, just like lawyers. In order to ensure the paralegals carrying their certifications stay sharp, these organizations usually also require periodic re-certification.
Why should I get certified even though it’s not required?
While employment prospects for paralegals are certainly expected to grow, so are the number of people applying to these positions.
Employers generally prefer candidates who have an ABA-approved degree (See: Paralegal Degrees) and are certified in one or more areas, as well as those who are proficient in the relevant technologies. Certification is not only a good way to make yourself stand out from the rest of the stack, it can be indispensable in applying for the more competitive jobs, which logically are also the highest-paying ones.
Besides the massive value in obtaining a certification or two, it is an easy step to take after completing your degree. Why go as far as getting an associate’s or bachelor’s degree if you’re not going to exercise the full potential of the career field? Most paralegal graduates find the extra step to be well worth the effort.
Most paralegal training programs prepare graduates for certification of some kind, so it’s a good idea to ask school reps about the organizations they are accredited for. See what programs are available in your area.