While they are not always required by law firms, paralegal credentials can help you secure a job and then advance in the field. Paralegals play a major role in assisting lawyers by carrying out substantial tasks within law firms of all sizes. They might contact clients, interview new clients about their cases, gather and organize investigations, track deadlines, perform legal research, and even prepare important legal documents. In order to be prepared to do this, completing a paralegal program or a formal degree program is often necessary. These programs teach you how to use the programs, how to perform legal research and how to assist during trial. When you choose to get credentialed, you are going beyond just completing training or earning a degree. Here are the types of credentials that you can pursue in the field:
The Paralegal Core Competencies Exam for CORE Registered Paralegals
One thing that makes mapping out your educational path so difficult when you are a paralegal is that the paths are not one-size-fits-all. Many entry-level professionals who want to demonstrate their proficiency in various core legal areas will pursue certifications to become CORE Registered Paralegals through the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) or the Certified Paralegal designation through the National Association of Legal Assistants.
To qualify to sit for any of these entry-level certification exams, you must possess a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. You may major in any field if you possess a certificate, but need to major in paralegal studies if you do not have a certificate or any work experience. An associate’s degree is acceptable if you major in paralegal studies or you have a minimum of one year of experience.
An Advanced Paralegal Generalist Certification
There is also the opportunity for mid or upper-level paralegals to pursue a Registered Paralegal certification by taking the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) through the NFPA. You will need a combination of work experience and education to qualify to be an RP, which can give you prestige in the field. You will be tested on more advanced skills than the other entry-level exams if you choose this path. Some of the requirements to sit for the PACE exam include:
* Associate’s degree in Paralegal Studies with six years of experience
* Bachelor’s degree in any field with three years of experience
* Bachelor’s degree in Paralegal Studies and two years of experience
* Four years of experience
Earning a Certification to Become a Specialist
A paralegal can specialize in several different areas. When you choose a specialty area of law, you can qualify for a more specific type of job doing what you have an expertise in. There is a list of specialist certifications through the NALA that will show you have knowledge in a specialize area. You will need to earn your Certified Paralegal designation and complete continuing education before you can pursue specialties. Some specialties offered include: Personal Injury, Criminal Litigation, Trial Practice, Trademarks, Contracts, and Social Security Disability.
In addition to the national certifications above, some states offer certifications. Be sure to compare the benefits of each before you make a selection. Once you know the path that you would like to take, you can start making plans to earn your paralegal credentials so that you can make a name in the field.