Pursuing 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. Certification is possible for prospective or existing paralegals who may or may not possess an associate's or a bachelor's degree in legal or paralegal studies, enabling them to broaden their career goals. Eligibility for national paralegal certification is often based on experience and education, such as a paralegal degree from an accredited college or university.
There are several options to choose from when pursuing paralegal certification. Any of the available certifications can help kick-start the career of a new paralegal or advance the career of an established legal professional, improving hiring potential and leading to better-paying jobs as well as more security in the legal job market. Member benefits of the organizations that offer certification programs also include having your name listed in national databases, which will improve your professional profile and help you stand out in the paralegal career field.
In deciding to pursue paralegal certification, you may consider consulting your local paralegal association in addition to jobs listings posted by the firms you will eventually target for a job to assess the cost versus the value of certification. Continue reading for more about specific certification options for paralegals.
American Alliance of Paralegals
The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI) offers the Paralegal Certification Program to applicants who meet its criteria. Potential candidates must demonstrate five years of experience as a paralegal. They must also possess either an American Bar Association (ABA)-approved paralegal certificate, an ABA-approved associate degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor's or advanced degree in any field.
National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) is a respected organization that offers two routes to certification. Qualified paralegals may take NALA's CP Certified Paralegal program or Advanced Paralegal Certification (APC) program. Applicants must meet certain criteria regarding education and experience to be eligible to take the CP or APC exams, the passage of which awards certification. NALA also offers continuing education options.
National Association of Legal Secretaries
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 Professional (ALP), Professional Legal Secretary (PLS) and/or Certified Legal Professional (CLP), and Professional Paralegal (PP). NALS offers the ALP designation as an introductory certification for individuals entering the legal career field who have had class instruction but little to no experience. PLS and/or CLP certification is offered to individuals who have either a minimum of three years of legal work experience or two years of legal work experience combined with education or other certifications. PP candidates need five years of paralegal work experience, a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies, an associate's degree or higher from ABA-approved paralegal program, or an acceptable combination of education and experience. As of May 2016, over 3,000 paralegals were ALP certified, over 5,500 paralegals were PLS or CLP certified, and over 500 paralegals were PP certified.
National Federation of Paralegal Associations
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) offers two types of certification: the CORE Registered Paralegal (CRP) credential upon passing the Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCE) and the Registered Paralegal (RP) credential upon passing the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE). Paralegals holding the RP certification are registered through the NFPA and this list is frequently consulted by employers and others in the legal profession. CRP certification by the NFPA is intended for early-career and entry-level paralegals, while the RP credential is reserved for experienced paralegals. Read more about the eligibility requirements for these paralegal certification options here.