If you want to become a paralegal, it is important that you find out whether or not certification for paralegals is required before you can land a position in your state.
A professional certification is a credential that shows that professionals in a specific line of work are knowledgeable and capable of performing as they are expected to. A certificate, on the other hand, is something that is granted when a student completes a paralegal certificate program.
Read on and learn more about certifications through professional associations and if they are a required or optional.
How Has Demand Changed the Requirements to Become a Paralegal?
Years and years ago, when the supply of paralegals was much smaller than the demand for them, entry-level professionals could enter the field with no experience and no degree. Now, since we live in such a litigious society and there is a great deal of competition in the field, you will need experience or an education.
What Level of Education is Required to Become a Paralegal?
When you are starting from scratch in the workforce or you are coming from another industry, you need to complete a post-secondary degree program or certificate program. There are very focused certificate programs that only discuss paralegal subject matters and then there are degrees offered through community colleges and universities. An Associate’s degree, for example, is a popular choice and requires you to complete 2 years’ worth of curriculum.
A Bachelor’s goes more in depth and requires you to complete 4 years of study. The first 2 years are focused on general education and the second 2 years are focused on core topics. If you are leaning towards a certificate that you can earn after only 18 to 45 credit hours, just know most certificate programs are only available to students who have earned the Bachelor’s in another subject area but want to focus on paralegal studies.
What is the Difference Between a National Credential and State Credential?
Once you complete your educational program, you may be eligible to earn your certification. Many people are surprised to learn that there are both national and state certification programs that each have their own eligibility requirements. While state credentials are most often voluntary, you need to have your national certification through the National Association of Legal Assistants or the National Federation of Paralegal Associations before you can ever take a state test.
What are the Guidelines to Getting a National Certification?
You must take a certification exam to become a Certified Paralegal with the National Association of Legal Assistants, but you cannot sit for the exam until you meet specific guidelines. To apply to sit for the exam, you need to be able to show you have completed an approved paralegal education program. This could be a certification program approved by the American Bar Association, an accredited Associate’s program, a Bachelor’s program, or paralegal program consisting of 60 or more units.
Related Resource: Top 10 Online Paralegal Degree Programs of 2016
You may not be required to earn certification nationally or with the state, but it is becoming a standard with some employers. If you would like to compete and show you have reached the national professional standard, take the time to complete paralegal studies and then start to prep for a national and then state certification for paralegals.