Actually the truth is very few paralegals in the country are certified. Certified is not the same kind of term in the paralegal world as it is in other industries. A long time ago, a couple of organizations, NALA, the National Association of Legal Assistants and NFPA, the National Federation of Paralegal Assistants came up with national exams and they actually trademarked the words certified and registered paralegal. There is really no national standard for paralegal training. Paralegals can gain those titles if sit for the exams but there are other criteria that you need besides your paralegal training. We’ll attack them one at a time.
We’ll start with NALA. The National Association of Legal Assistants has been around for about 30 some years and they do have an exam that can gain you the title of certified paralegal. In order to qualify for that exam you will need the following things, a Bachelor’s degree in any field, doesn’t matter what it is combined with X number of hours in substantive legal training which is going to be equivalent to about an 18 month program or 360 clock hours which you can do by a 14 week online program. Once you complete their exam, if you’re successful in passing it which with your Bachelor’s degree, your general education and the legal training you should be able to do. You will be certified, you need to go back every year and be re-certified and take CEUs which are Continuing Education Units to maintain that certification. So that’s one pathway.
The next way would be the National Federation of Paralegals, NFPA, they have two different exams. One is called the PACE exam, very similar to the NALA exam. You’d pay a fee, you need to have a Bachelor’s degree and a substantive number of hours invested in your legal training. Once you are successful in passing their exam, you can call yourself a registered paralegal. That certification also requires that you go back each year and get additional training to maintain your credentials.
A couple of years ago for people that don’t have a Bachelor’s degree, the National Federation came up with a lower level exam for entry level paralegals because most paralegals, as I said at the beginning of this answer don’t get certified. The reason they don’t is because they may not have that Bachelor’s degree or they haven’t got their certificate. For people who have minimum of a high school diploma or an Associate’s degree, they can qualify to sit for the PCC that’s a Paralegal Core Competency exam. You probably want to go visit their website and you can look at the other NALA.org. For the PCC exam, you need to have years experience as well.
Bottom line of all that is that what you really need is to have specific legal training. Go work as a paralegal, couple of years down the road, use certification or registered as way to get a promotion or a pay raise and establish yourself as a mentor in the profession that’s going to work with younger paralegals.