Most paralegals have completed a formal paralegal education program. However, some paralegals have only on-the-job paralegal training. Formal paralegal education programs may result in an associate's degree, bachelor's degree, master's degree, or paralegal certificate. Many paralegals have completed all of their training before entering the profession, while others have completed their education while working their way up from the mailroom in a law firm. Many paralegals take Continuing Legal Education (CLE) courses to fulfill the requirements of their firm, state, or association.
In the United States, there is no such thing as a paralegal licensed by a government body; rather, paralegals can be "registered," "certified," or certificated.
There are two major national organizations that offer professional certification to paralegals who meet voluntary regulation standards: the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) established in 1976 and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) established in 1996.
Both NALA and the NFPA offer professional certification exams that should not be confused with a paralegal certificate offered by an officially accredited college or university.
NALA offers its Certified Legal Assistant or Certified Paralegal examination, a comprehensive two-day examination that covers the following subjects: Communications, Ethics, Legal Research, Judgment and Analytical Ability, American Legal System and four sub-sections selected by the applicants from a list of nine substantive areas of the law. These sub-section tests cover general knowledge of the following practice areas: Administrative Law, Bankruptcy, Business Organizations, Civil Litigation, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Estate, Planning and Probate, Family Law and Real Estate. After successful completion of the examination, NALA awards the paralegal the "CLA" (Certified Legal Assistant) or "CP" (Certified Paralegal) designation. Both the "CLA" and "CP" designations are proprietary trademarks owned by NALA. Paralegals who have attained further education and received a paralegal certificate are referred to as "Certificated" unless they have passed the examination and have been awarded the "Certified" designation. Additionally, those paralegals who receive the "Certified Paralegal" designation then have the opportunity to earn the "Advanced Certified Paralegal" designation. There is a 45 to 50 percent pass rate for persons taking the NALA exams.
The NFPA offers its non-accredited Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam, which is a four-hour exam on a variety of legal topics; those who pass that exam can call themselves PACE-Registered Paralegals and display the "RP" designation. NFPA’s core purpose is to advance the paralegal profession and is committed to the profession’s Code of Ethics.
Some states have considered the licensure of paralegals. Whether paralegals should be licensed or certified is one of the most important issues for paralegals today.
Certified Paralegal / Certified Legal Assistant
To be eligible to take the Certified Paralegal Exam, an application must have graduated from a paralegal program (a) Approved by the American Bar Association; or (b) An associate degree program; or (c) A post-baccalaureate certificate program in paralegal studies; or (d) A bachelor's degree program in paralegal studies; or (e) A paralegal program which consists of a minimum of 60 semester hours (900 clock hours or 90 quarter hours) of which at least 15 semester hours (225 clock hours or 22.5 quarter hours) are substantive legal courses. There are also other categories under which an applicant may be eligible to take the Certified Paralegal Exam.
The Certified Paralegal Exam (CP Exam) is given in January, May and September each year. Beginning in September, 2013 the CP Exam tests applicants on Communications, Ethics, Legal Research, Judgment, Analytical Ability, and Substantive Law (including the American Legal System, Civil Litigation, Contracts, and Business Organizations).
According to Legal Assistant Today magazine, the CP Exam has a 45-50% pass rate.
The CP Exam is a national exam. However, it is important to note that the State Bars of Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas have their own paralegal certification programs.Although California does not certify paralegals in general, California legislation (AB 1761) makes it unlawful for persons to identify themselves as paralegals unless they meet certain requirements. Paralegals must also complete continuing legal education every two years in order to lawfully perform services or identify as a paralegal.
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