Graduation diploma scrollSome think that a certificated paralegal is the same as a certified paralegal, and often confuse this when applying for a position in a firm or corporation. What does it mean to have certification or be certificated, and earn a certificate and be certified?

Paralegal Certificate

The American Bar Association aims to distinguish a paralegal certificate and certification, as these have separate meanings and are not interchangeable. A certificate verifies that a student has successfully completed a paralegal educational program.

Paralegal programs are generally offered in universities and colleges approved by the ABA. These are also conveniently available online. Usually, these programs require a student to be a graduate of an associate or bachelor’s degree in another field of study before enrolling.

At The Center for Legal Studies, however, some courses only require a high school diploma or GED. After completing the program, the student becomes certificated in paralegal studies and issued Certificates of Completion.


Certification is the process where an organization grants formal recognition to someone who meets the criteria. There really is no need to acquire a license or registration for paralegals since they are working under the supervision of a licensed attorney who assumes full responsibility for the work output. A paralegal certification has become almost mandatory these days in many states.

There are two nationally recognized certification programs that administer examinations for paralegal certification. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) administers exams for Certified Legal Assistant (CLA). The National Federal of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) provides an exam called for paralegal Advanced Competency Exam that leads to PACE – Registered Paralegal or RP.

Certified vs Certificates: On the Way to Becoming a Paralegal

So you’ve decided: you want to be a paralegal. You’ve selected a firm to join, prepared for your interview, and submitted your resume, but find out that you’re unqualified. What gives? Well, as it turns out, becoming a paralegal requires quite a bit of training, experience, and in some cases, years of study.

Certificates and Certifications

The first big step towards becoming a paralegal could be very different for people, depending on what stage they are in life. Younger people may decide to go to school to pursue their dreams by getting a degree, while older, more experienced people may want to explore other nontraditional alternatives. Whichever of these they choose, one thing is clear: these people are in pursuit of a certificate. Simply put, a certificate is a physical document; in this case, the document is proof provided by an independent body (either a school or some other educational establishment) stating that the recipient of the document has completed all coursework required for their field of study.

On the other hand, a certification, often a physical document as well, is given to an individual who has passed a diagnostic test or exam, usually given by a board of experts, known as the certifying body. A certification is a declaration that the examinee has taken the exam and, if they pass, has been found to have the skills necessary for the profession. Doctors and lawyers have qualificatory exams, and paralegals do as well.

This is a subtle, but significant, distinction between a certificate and a certification. Having a certificate in paralegal studies, or even a diploma from an associate or bachelor’s course, does not indicate that the certificate holder is ready to work as a paralegal, just that they’ve finished all necessary coursework. On the other hand, the certification is an independent body declaring, on behalf of the examinee, that the examinee has the skills necessary for working as a paralegal. Certificates can eventually lead to holders eventually being certified as paralegals.

Certificate Courses vs. Diplomas and Graduate Programs

More formal paths of study are available, for those who have the time and resources to pursue them. Undergraduate associate and bachelor courses in paralegal studies are available from many top colleges and universities. Usually taking between four and eight semesters to complete, these programs provide aspirants with courses that will form the backbone of their careers as paralegals, while also exposing them to general education courses for a more well-rounded educational experience. While time-consuming, and occasionally expensive, these traditional educational paths produce graduates with a host of varied skills.

On the other hand, certificate courses are available from vocational and adult learning institutes, and are intended for individuals who may not have the inclination or availability for full-time study as demanded by colleges and universities. Instead of quantifying their time requirement by semester or year, certificate courses typically require a certain number of hours spent either attending lectures or seminars, balanced with individual learning or field-based activities. These can frequently be completed in two months or less, depending on the commitment of the learner.

Talk to us for more information about paralegal studies and our wide range of paralegal courses. You can also browse the website for more resources regarding paralegal courses and career options.