Becoming a certified paralegal is easier than you might think but requires that you take a test to get your certification. You might hear about programs that advertise on late night television or online that claim you can become certified in just two years or less. While those programs will help you complete an associate’s degree, those programs will not actually certify you. Whether you complete a two-year program or a four-year program that awards you a bachelor’s degree, you’ll still need to take a certification test.
Go to School
Not all paralegal studies programs are exactly the same. Two-year programs let you earn an associate’s degree, and you’ll find that many community colleges offer programs of this type. Four-year programs are available through traditional colleges and online schools and will culminate in a bachelor’s degree. Regardless of the type of school you choose, you should make certain that it has accreditation from the American Bar Association. Graduating from an ABA accredited school qualifies you to take one of the certification tests offered by three different organizations. You usually need to take a minimum of 60 credit hours of paralegal courses to take one of these tests.
Gain Some Experience
While some professions require that you have certification before going to work, paralegals do not need certification right out of college. Before taking one of these certification tests, you need to spend some time working for a law firm or in another area of the legal field. You usually need a minimum of two years experience and a bachelor’s degree to sit for one of these tests or four years of experience and an associate’s degree. You can even gain some legal experience and sit for one of these tests without earning a paralegal degree first.
Take the Certification Test
There are three organizations that can help you become a certified paralegal: the Association for Legal Professionals, National Association of Legal Assistants and National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). The NFPA, which is the most prominent of those organizations, offers the Paralegal Core Competency Exam and the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE). After ensuring that you meet the basic requirements for taking one of those tests, you’ll need to register for the exam and select the nearest testing center. Once you take the computerized test, the organization will notify you in writing or via email whether you passed.
Choosing the Right Test
To decide which test is right for you, you need to think about what you hope to do with your degree. Certification from the National Association of Legal Assistants is best for those who prefer doing administrative work such as filing and taking notes during client meetings, while the Association for Legal Professionals offers certification for legal assistants and secretaries. If you prefer certification from the NFPA, you need to decide between the PACE exam or the more basic exam. The basic exam is best for those with less experience. PACE certification requires more experience and will test you on your practical experience.
Paralegals handle a number of jobs every day, including doing research into past cases, speaking with clients and drafting legal documents for lawyers. After finishing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, you can become a certified paralegal once you take the certification exam available from three professional organizations.