Since laws frequently change to reflect current cultural norms and needs, legal professionals, including paralegals, rely on continuing education to keep abreast of new procedures and legal protocols within their profession. This is true across multiple legal platforms addressing areas such as: medicine and health; personal injury or disabilities; human and civil rights; the workplace; criminal justice; immigration; finance; international law; real estate and property rights; or the environment. In view of this, continuing legal education is an important, professional obligation throughout a paralegal’s career.
Foundations for Paralegal Certifications and Continuing Legal Studies
A majority of states and employers in the legal profession are requiring paralegal candidates to acquire and maintain national, in addition to, state certifications. State requirements are often based upon the results of taking national certification exams. These exams are offered by three accredited agencies: the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). Candidates must meet eligibility requirements to sit for exams offered by the administering agency based on education and experience. Once initial, national certification is obtained, paralegals then continue taking legal education courses in order to maintain national certification status. Types of certifications by agency include:
- Certified Paralegal (CP) or Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) designations offered through NALA
- Professional Paralegal (PP) designation offered through NALS
- CORE Registered Paralegals (CRPs)designation offered through NFPA
Continuing Education Programs for Paralegals
Studies emanate from the accrediting agency’s guidelines for maintaining certification, state requirements and employers’ expectations for job competencies. Within this framework, paralegals may choose their topics of study. Popular choices include classes in: bankruptcy, family law, business law, malpractice, career and work skills, school law, environmental law, litigation, legal research, intellectual property and military justice among others. These studies can be pursued through a variety of online paralegal programs or traditional campus formats. Additionally, employers and scholarship programs may often assist with fees to take national certification exams or continuing legal education studies.
Advanced Continuing Legal Education Certifications
In addition to basic exams towards national certification, paralegals can also use continuing education opportunities to specialize in their area of expertise. Earning advanced certifications can often lead to higher paying jobs in leadership positions. Types of advanced certifications include:
- The Advanced Paralegal Certification (APC) offered by NALA which provides specialization in areas such as contracts, discovery, social security disability, trial practice, dispute resolutions, business organizations and incorporated entities, trademarks, personal injury, land use, criminal litigation and commercial bankruptcy.
- The Registered Paralegals (RP) designation acquired by passing NFPA’s Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE). Qualifications for this exam may be based on experience as well as education and are open to those who hold associate’s or bachelor’s degrees.
Becoming a paralegal opens up exciting career possibilities across legal platforms within the profession. To retain certification, maintain core competencies and stay current with changing legal trends, paralegals should expect to continue studying through their careers. The results of these important, continuing studies are broader employment opportunities, career advancements and higher salaries over time.