Many people who earn their degree in legal studies, such as an online Master of Legal Studies, may seek a career as paralegal. While passing an exam or certification is not required to become a paralegal, there are voluntary certifications available to demonstrate knowledge and expertise in the field.
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations Inc. (NFPA) recommends paralegals seek certification to stand out in the application process.
Holding a paralegal certification can potentially increase your salary and job prospects. Check out our list of national paralegal certifications and those issued by states.
Paralegal Certifications vs. Paralegal Certificates: What are the Differences?
Associate, bachelor’s, master’s and even non-degree programs may offer paralegal certificates. People who complete these programs and earn a certificate of completion may then become certificated in paralegal studies. Some paralegal education programs are granted acquiesce by the American Bar Association (ABA).
Paralegal certifications may indicate completion of an exam and fulfillment of work or meet certain established requirements. Paralegal certifications are offered by certifying organizations, such as the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) or the National Association for Legal Assistants (NALA). Paralegals who have passed required examinations and fulfill ongoing requirements may become certified. Some credentials may include CORE or PACE Registered Paralegal, Certified Paralegal, Certified Legal Assistant or Professional Paralegal. To maintain these credentials, paralegals may also be required to complete continuing legal education (CLE).
National Paralegal Certifications
There are several organizations that offer paralegal certifications. Each has different eligibility requirements, designations and exams.
American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP)
The American Alliance of Paralegals Inc. (AAPI) offers a certification program. Notably paralegals must be members of the AAPI to receive the credential. However, there is no exam. Candidates must apply, and if they meet the education and experience criteria, they can receive the AAPI certification.
To be eligible for the certification, candidates need at least five years of paralegal experience and a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, or an associate degree or certificate from an ABA-recognized program.
NALS Certified Professional Paralegal
NALS-The Association for Legal Professionals, offers the professional paralegal exam. To be eligible to sit for the exam and become a certified professional paralegal, candidates have to meet one of the following requirements:
- Minimum of five years of experience as a paralegal or legal assistant.
- Have a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies.
- Graduated from an ABA-recognized program.
- Graduated from another accredited paralegal program with a minimum of 60 semester hours and/or 900 clock hours, with at least 15 semester hours and/or 225 clock hours in substantive law.
- Have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field and have a minimum of one year of experience as a paralegal or legal assistant.
NALA Certified Paralegal
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers the certified paralegal (CP) credential. This credential is recognized worldwide and is the national professional standard for paralegals. Paralegals often choose to complete this program because the NALA is the only National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) accredited paralegal certification program. Eligibility is determined based on education or experience criteria.
Candidates must take an exam on federal law and procedures to receive the credential. The exam consists of two section—knowledge and skills. Candidates must complete the knowledge portion before they are eligible to take the skills exam.
NFPA Paralegal Certification
The PCCE is an entry-level exam for paralegals to demonstrate that their education has prepared them for their career. The PACE exam has educational and professional experience requirements. Years of experience depends on education and degree. The PACE exam has two parts, one covering legal and ethics issues and another on specialty topics.
Paralegal Certifications by State
There are also voluntary state certification programs for paralegals. Some states, like Florida and New Jersey, offer state-specific exams or have associations that are affiliated with national organizations like the NALA.
California is the only state that regulates paralegals directly, as outlined in the Business and Professions Code. Independent paralegals in California who wish to offer legal document preparation services must be certified through the California Association of Legal Document Assistants.
The table below outlines some programs and certifying associations in each state. Note that there may be other state associations excluded from this list, including organizations that do not offer exams or credentials.
|State||Association||Certification Program or Licensure|
|District of Columbia||
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Frequently Asked Questions about Paralegal Certifications
No, and they are not interchangeable. A certificated paralegal usually refers to those who hold a certificate of completion from a paralegal education program.A certified paralegal is someone who fulfills requirements or passes an exam and eventually receives a paralegal certification from an organization.
The amount of time required to complete a paralegal certification can vary. Factors include candidates’ work, educational background and knowledge of the legal field.
It’s also important to note that you may need to take continuing education courses to maintain your certification, which will require additional time.
You do not need to complete a professional certification to become a paralegal. Many employed paralegals are not certified paralegals. However, some employers, including law firms, use the NALA’s professional standards to determine minimum qualifications for hiring a paralegal. Therefore, some employers may only hire certified paralegals. A certification is not necessary but it is recommended.
A certification and a master’s degree are different ways to demonstrate your knowledge of the legal field. Both are valuable and may help you grow your career in the legal field. Consider your career goals or job requirements. Earning a paralegal certification is not dependent on obtaining a Master of Legal Studies and vice versa.
Paralegal certification programs may help you grow your career. Eligibility requirements, application process and recertification may impact which paralegal certification program you choose. It is worth noting that the NALA is the only National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) accredited paralegal certification program. The American Bar Association and other organizations recognize the NALA program as the paralegal standard.
Eligibility requirements of paralegal certification exams are typically based on education or experience. You do not need a degree from an ABA-recognized school to take a paralegal certification exam. There are several ways that candidates may be eligible to take a certification, and completion of an ABA-recognized program is just one of them. However, keep in mind that some employers may prefer that your degree is from an ABA-recognized school.
Licensure refers to the authorization to use the title of “paralegal” and perform responsibilities of a paralegal. The only state that directly regulates paralegals is California. According to the ABA, Washington and Utah adopted licensing measures for those working in the legal field.
Upon successful completion of a certification exam, paralegals may use a credential after their name. The credential you use should come from the organization that administered your exam. For example, a paralegal who passed the NALA’s exam should use Certified Paralegal® as their credential. A paralegal who is certified through the NFPA’s PACE exam should use Registered Paralegal (RP).
Information on this page was retrieved in October 2021