A national paralegal certification is one educational route individuals interested in criminal justice and the legal field may take that can lead to a profession as a legal assistant or paralegal. It is also something people who already have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in legal studies may pursue to further their career goals. The first step to earning national paralegal certification often requires earning a paralegal degree from an accredited college.
There are several choices to consider when pursuing paralegal certification. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) is a respected organization that has established standards for the certification process and qualified paralegals may earn a Certified Paralegal (CP) or Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) certification.
If applicant members meet certain criteria regarding education and experience they will be eligible to take an exam, the passage of which awards certification. NALA also offers continuing education options to meet requirements and can aid in employment.
Members of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) are awarded the certification of Registered Paralegal (RP) upon passing the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE). Paralegals holding this certification are registered in their respective states of practice and this list is consulted by employers and others in the legal profession.
The National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS) has been accepting members since 1949 and now has chapters organized by region in every state. The organization offers three forms of certification: Accredited Legal Secretary (ALS), Professional Legal Secretary (PLS) and Professional Paralegal (PP).
NALS offers ALS as an introductory accreditation to individuals entering the career field who have had class instruction but little to no experience. PLS certification is offered to individuals who have three years’ experience in the field, and PP candidates need five years of experience to be eligible (unless waived by NALS).
The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI) offers the Paralegal Certification Program to applicants who meet its comparatively stringent criteria. Potential candidates must demonstrate five years of experience in the field, as well as carry an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, or a certificate approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).
Any of these certifications can dramatically advance the career of the established legal professional, and improve the hiring potential of individuals entering the field, which will lead to better paying jobs and more security in the legal job market.
Member benefits of all of these organizations and certification programs also include having a place in national listings and databases and improving the look of a legal assistant’s professional profile in the growing criminal justice career field.
In deciding to pursue paralegal certification, one might consider consulting your local paralegal association or firms you will eventually target for a job to assess the value.