The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) are both well-respected professional organizations for legal assistants, but the main difference between the NALA and the NFPA lies in the organizational missions of each association. Legal assistants who are popularly known as paralegals continue to make significant contributions within their career field. Here are some of the ways that both NALA and NFPA help paralegals continue to add value to the legal profession.
Continuing Education Resources And Seminars
Professional development and lifelong learning is at the heart of a lengthy career as a paralegal. While both NALA and NFPA offer continuing education materials, NALA provides the paralegal community with comprehensive professional development programs that cover nearly all issues within the legal career field. Their continuous legal education (CLE) opportunities are available throughout the year in cities across the nation, and the organization also offers the occasional free webinar which focuses on interpersonal skills for paralegal professionals. NFPA also offers several CLE courses that help paralegals in their daily activities and prepare them to take industry certification examinations.
Industry Certification Programs
Currently no regulatory standards are governing paralegal certification programs, but these programs are known to issue third party, non-government sponsored designations that indicate the competency of the paralegal professional. Both NALA and NFPA have developed paralegal certification programs that include comprehensive examinations and sets of certification criteria. The NALA designation is called the Certified Legal Assistance or the Certified Paralegal. Paralegals who have graduated from a qualifying legal assistant program, earned an undergraduate degree or have a high school diploma and several years of experience as a legal assistant are eligible to sit for the qualifying examination. NFPA allows qualifying paralegals to take their Paralegal Competency Examination (PACE) that leads to their PACE Registered Paralegal designation. The exam covers topics like ethics, regulations and specialty legal issues.
Influence Industry Practices and Regulatory Standards Through Advocacy
A key difference between the NALA and the NFPA organizations is NFPA’s official goal to influence industry best practices through their monitoring and advocacy efforts. For example, leaders within the NFPA monitored an important trend about the outsourcing of paralegal work offshore. A university study showed that white-collar paralegal careers were in danger of moving overseas in addition to U.S. manufacturing jobs. NFPA conducted analysis and published a position paper for use within industry and government that succinctly stated the risks of using international workers to conduct legal activities which heavily relied on knowledge of the U.S. legal system.
Another feature of NFPA that NALA does not appear to have yet is an employment assistance center for its members. While each association provides ample networking opportunities via its seminars and conferences, NFPA leverages its industry partnerships to provide a natural forum that matches employer needs with paralegals who possess the right skill sets.
Although attorneys receive much of the credit for litigation activities, paralegals are authorized by law to do essential tasks relating to legal research, client interviews, generating legal documentation and conducting law office administration. Even though there is a difference between the NALA and the NFPA organizations, both associations have missions that advance the legal profession.