Paralegal Certificates and Paralegal Certification

Paralegal Certificates and Paralegal Certification

While many professionals are licensed by states, paralegals generally are not.  Anyone can call himself or herself a paralegal, providing she or he can get someone to hire him or her.  During interviews, paralegals may be asked if they have a certificate or if they are certified.  There is a difference between the two words.

What is a Paralegal Certificate?

A paralegal certificate is a diploma given by a paralegal program, particularly one that does not grant a college degree.  It simply says that the holder satisfactorily completed the granting institution’s program.

How to Become a Certified Paralegal

Though states do not license paralegals, some of the paralegal professional organizations certify them by means of voluntary examinations.

Who Certifies Paralegals?

  • The National Federation of Paralegal Associations offers the “CRP and “RP” designations.
  • NALA The Paralegal Association offers the “CP” designation
  • The NALS The association for legal professionals offers the “PP” designation

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations

 The NFPA offers two separate examinations for paralegals.  The Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCEtm) is a paralegal certification exam designed for entry-level paralegals.  It was first administered in 2011 and tests both paralegal practice subjects as well as substantive areas of law.  The examination takes about 2.5 hours and can be taken at any time at Prometric Testing Centers across the United States.  Those who pass it may use the CRPTM designation, meaning Core Registered Paralegal.  The cost for the examination is $215.00. Once certified, paralegals need to recertify every two year by paying a fee and completing eight hours of CLE, including one hour of ethics.

The NFPA’s paralegal certification examination for experienced paralegals is the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE).  First administered in 1996, the PACE is only available to paralegals with at least an Associates Degree (unless they had four years of substantive paralegal experience prior to December 31,2000).  Paralegals also need between two and six years of substantive paralegal experience, depending on their educational level.  The PACE is supposed to recognize paralegals who have achieved an advanced level in the profession.  Those who pass it are entitled to use the RP designation. The cost for the PACE is $250 for NFPA members and $275 for non-members.  The test can be taken Monday through Saturday at any Prometric Testing Center.  The PACE exam covers a variety of paralegal and/or law office practices and procedures but does not cover substantive areas of law.  The RP credential must be renewed every two years for a $50 fee.  Twelve hours of CLE are required, including an hour of ethics.

NALA:  The Paralegal Association

The NALA paralegal certification exam is the Certified Paralegal/Certified Legal Assistant Exam.  The credential they issue is Certified Paralegal (CP) or Certified Legal Assistant (CLA).  The CLA examination was first administered in 1976.  It is available to new graduates of ABA approved programs, to college graduates with a year’s experience as a paralegal or to high school graduates who have worked as a paralegal for seven year and have twenty hours of CLE within two years before taking the examination.  The fees vary by testing center but are over $250.  The test is available in January, May and September at ACT Testing Centers in most major cities.  Subjects covered are both legal and procedural.  The NALA paralegal certification must be renewed every five years by paying the $125 fee and taking 50 hours of CLE, including 5 hours of ethics.

NALS

The NALS paralegal certification exam is the Professional Paralegal Exam, and those who pass it are entitled to use the initials PP (Professional Paralegal) after their name.  The PP exam was first given in 2004.  To qualify to take the examination, a paralegal must either have five years of paralegal experience or have graduated from an acceptable program. The PP exam is administered on the first Saturday of March and the last Saturday in September in most major metropolitan areas.  The fee is $200 for members, $250 for non-members. The PP examination covers writing skills, legal knowledge, ethics and judgment and substantive law.  The PP credential is good for five years and to renew it requires a $75 fee plus 75 hours of CLE including 5 hours of ethics.

Is Certification Necessary?

Despite the best efforts of the three national paralegal organizations, paralegal certification via their programs has not become a necessary credential for a job, or even a very well-known qualification.  According to a chart disseminated by the NFPA, as of March, 2014, only 169 people were PCCE certified, and only 575 were RPs.  There were 17,711 CLA/CPs in November, 2013 and 561 PPs in January, 2014.  While people are taking, and passing the paralegal certification exams on a regular basis, it is clear that not all bother to maintain the credentials.

Why Do Paralegals Take Certification Examinations

There are those in the paralegal profession, particularly those who are active in paralegal associations, who believe that the prestige and pay of paralegals would be enhanced if paralegals were licensed by the states.  Since the states have, at least so far, not decided to license paralegals, they choose to promote, and take certification examinations as a way of showing their professional knowledge and to encourage others to do the same.

While there is some evidence that paralegals who are certified make more money than those who are not, no studies have been done that control for other variables.  It is likely that those who spend the time and money to take these examinations are those who are devoted to the job and seeking self-improvement.

Do Paralegals Who Are Certified Get Hired Before Those Who Are Not?

Employers want to hire the best person for the job, and will look at educational credentials and job experience to determine who to interview and who to hire.  While the PCCE designation may give a new graduate with no experience a leg up on others who are in the same position, it is doubtful that those initials will make much difference for an experienced paralegal who has the standard credentials in his or her area.  However, a paralegal who does not have a college degree may find that passing such a test and being able to explain it to employers could make the difference in being hired or not.

National certification examinations are a way for paralegals to demonstrate their knowledge and skills and have them evaluated by an impartial third party.  Maintaining national certification requires CLE so that the paralegal has to keep learning.  There are those who hope that these voluntary certification programs may one day turn into licensing programs.