We are about to talk about everything related to paralegal certification, but before that, we must ensure that you understand what is the difference between a certificate and being certified or having a certification.
The easiest way to understand this is that schools don’t offer certification – they offer certificates; whereas, obtaining a diploma or degree will lead to certification.
Paralegal Certification includes taking certification exam via state agencies or paralegal societies, as well as following all other educational or technical requirements required by the organization, state, or entity that awards certificates.
Here are the two national professional associations that provide paralegal certification:
- The NALA (National Association of Legal Assistants), and
- The NFPA (National Federation of Paralegal Associations)
If you are wondering how to get a paralegal certification, you would be happy to know that these days there are many schools that offer paralegal certification online. Let’s dove in deep into the topic and figure out what opportunities await before you.
What is a paralegal certificate?
Before we get to know what exactly is a paralegal certification, we must first figure out the different types of paralegal certificate programs available for students:
Post-baccalaureate programs are primarily Paralegal certification. In other words, for students who already hold a bachelor’s or, at least, an associate’s degree, they are. This degree does not necessarily have to be in paralegal studies: you can get a bachelor’s degree in finance, fine arts, political science, or just about anything else.
The important thing is that you have a base in higher education that includes humanities, mathematics, English and social sciences, and have developed reading, writing, and communication skills that you can draw on in your professional lives.
A post-baccalaureate credential program can help you achieve the next level of education, as it also lends itself to specialization in a specific field – paralegal studies in this case. You can complete a number of paralegal certification degree programs right after high school.
Differentiating between the two types of programs is very important: post-baccalaureate programs are more like graduate programs, while programs that can be done immediately after high school offer more like a continuing professional education with little to no general education to complete the course like study.
In addition to legal training, there is a significant benefit of entering the workforce with a general education under the belt, and many employers clearly consider an associate or bachelor’s degree as a precondition for jobs.
However, if you need to get into the workplace immediately, are already working straight out of high school and want to attach paralegal skills to your resume for future promotion or simply don’t have the funds for just a degree, then a certificate program that doesn’t need a bachelor’s or associate degree as a requirement might be for you.
Requirements of Paralegal Certification
Certificate programs typically allow between 18 and 45 hours of credit anywhere. Because many or even most of the students are still working, these programs are mostly set up such that they can be done on a part-time basis by night or weekend classes.
Many certificate programs can be accomplished in one year, also on a part-time basis, but most schools support students by allowing them the opportunity paralegal certification online to take longer to complete a program.
Post-baccalaureate programs vary in terms of which fields of law they cover, but most of them include legal study, legal writing, an introductory course in paralegal certification, practical law, and a number of courses in special law fields. Some schools offer several options for paralegal certificates.
Many post-baccalaureate credential programs, for example, provide emphasis on fields such as paralegal nursing, paralegal criminal law, business paralegal, or paralegal education. There are a few courses within each of these programs that focus on the law, as it applies to that specialty.
One positive thing about these post-baccalaureate programs is that the students who apply for and complete these programs are usually older, more experienced, have some professional experience, and are highly driven to succeed in the career they have chosen.
These Paralegal Certification programs are certainly on a greater rung on the corporate ladder than technical certification courses and thus they are seen as recognizable and valued achievements by potential employers.
The Role of a Paralegal Certification Online
Now let’s discuss how to get a paralegal certification. Before you opt for a paralegal certification online, you must keep a few things in mind. As per the regulations set forward by the NALA, those who take the Certified Paralegal examination must fulfill the following criteria:
Paralegal Certification Graduation Program that is approved by:
(i) The American Bar Association; or
(ii) Any associate degree program; or
(iii) Any paralegal studies post-baccalaureate certificate program;
(iv) Any paralegal studies bachelor’s degree program; or
(v) Any paralegal Certification program that includes a minimum of 60 semester hours or 90 quarter hours or 900 clock hours, out of which, at least 15 semester hours or 22.5 quarter hours or 225 hours are legal courses.
Alternate credentials call for a bachelor’s degree in any area, plus one year of paralegal practice or 7 years of legal assistant job experience.
Thus, if you have an associate or bachelor’s and pursue a post-baccalaureate credential program, you fulfill the educational criteria for taking the Certified Paralegal test, then you get the title of Certified Paralegal or Certified Legal Assistant with a good score on that test.
This is regarded by law firms, companies, and other employers as a hallmark in professional achievement, and qualification is also a desired requirement for many paralegal positions.
Trivia: NALA also provides an Advanced Paralegal Qualification to those who already hold Paralegal Certificates.
Choosing the Right Paralegal Certificate Programs
Paralegal Certificate services providing customized tracks can be excellent choices for those pursuing work fulfillment across different areas of the law. You may want to get interested in biology, for example, and with a credential track in environmental paralegal studies, you will most likely find that the doors of environmental mission NGOs will open to you wider.
And because the law has an impact on medical sectors, like insurance, and other medical areas, which includes drug companies, individuals with nursing degrees can also graduate from nursing paralegal certificate programs and find paralegal positions in those areas due to their specialized knowledge.
A paralegal certification program is an ideal option for working individuals, whether in their profession or in uncharted territories, looking to make a career change. It can also act as a good opportunity for those considering law school, as it helps students in the legal profession to get their feet wet.
And those who do not aspire to be working paralegals will benefit from paralegal certification programs. Since the law impacts every part of our culture, anyone who applies legal expertise to their portfolio often creates advancement opportunities in their current work.
Things to Consider
Here are the things that you must consider while looking for a certification program includes the following questions:
- Are you seeking a simple technical certificate or a more sophisticated course like a post-baccalaureate program?
- Are you seeking a specialized program?
- Did you already achieve an undergraduate degree in legal or paralegal stream?
- Does your new certificate program cover topics that would allow you to expand your professional knowledge? Or would it do nothing new but only rehash what you already learned?
- Does the certificate program offer the basics of legal research, analysis, writing, substantive law, technology, and management when you did not cover legal studies in your undergraduate degree?
- What other responsibilities do you have, whether you are working or home, that will affect your life’s demands, and what arrangements does the school have that suit your schedule? How long does it take for you to win your certificate?
- What are the technical qualifications and faculties experience?
- In terms of study tools, classrooms, internet connectivity, and work placement programs, what advantages does the school have?
- How much should you spend?
Once you have clear answers to these questions you would surely be able to find a school that offers not only quality education that also meets your professional needs and keeps you on the right track to ensure that you achieve your career goals.
Duties of a Paralegal Professional with certification
Paralegals are in high demand across various industries and environments including healthcare, litigation, corporate law, and enforcement, among others.
Outside of traditional settings, real estate companies and insurance and financial firms also capitalize on the skills of today’s paralegals, resulting in an evolution of the profession and a significant increase in their role and responsibilities.
Paralegals, also called legal assistants, work closely with attorneys, sometimes performing many of the same tasks, except those roles which are legally allowed to be done only by an attorney: setting legal fees, providing legal advice, or defending others in court.
To the paralegals, the work description is more complicated than ever. While law firms continue to search for ways to streamline their procedures and cut expenses, paralegals are now performing duties that were previously reserved for lawyers at the junior level.
Today’s paralegals also offer legal advice on behalf of, among others, federal government agencies such as the IRS, the EPA, and the Social Security Administration.
Some jurisdictions also require them to appear for some motions and proceedings in court, though this would never necessarily include having legal counsel.
Emerging technologies, like cloud technology and social networking sites, are also changing the nature of legal research – a significant part of the work of a paralegal. Here are some of the duties that paralegals are required to perform routinely:
- Performing client interviews and maintaining client contact
- Supporting attorneys in the planning of transactional closes, depositions, inquiries, trials, and conferences
- Overview of depositions, testimony, and interrogations
- Performing investigations and documentary analysis
- Attending the execution of testaments, court / administrative proceedings and the closing of real estate
- Conducting investigations and documentary research
- Creation and maintenance of a case management database
- Management and recording of case records and relevant transactions
- Drafting of legal documents such as petitions, affidavits and summonses and transactional documents, such as contracts, real estate leases and trusts
Today’s paralegals have the ability to coordinate, interpret and analyze data in an increasingly complicated and confusing legal system, allowing them to provide their services through a wide variety of practice areas, like immigration law, intellectual property rights, environmental legislation, criminal law, etc.
Different Types of Practice Models
Paralegals come into one of the following groups according to the National Federation of Paralegal Associations:
- Traditional Paralegal: Traditional paralegals operate under the direction of an attorney in an atmosphere inside a law firm. The bulk of the profession is composed of conventional paralegals.
- Non-Traditional Paralegal: Non-traditional paralegals operate outside of a law firm setting, under the supervision of an attorney. Non-traditional paralegals are one of the fastest rising classes – are mostly hired by companies, insurance firms, financial services, consulting firms, and many more.
- Freelance or Contract Paralegal: Freelance or contract paralegals operate independently under a lawyer’s supervision. More often than not, they are retained by the attorneys depending on a case-by-case basis, whenever such needs arise.
- Independent Paralegal: Independent paralegals offer law-related services to customers without an attorney’s oversight. Though fairly new to the profession, independent paralegals also offer direct assistance to the public and provide a wide range of services.
Paralegals have broadened their positions to establish new career paths. Now they are applying their skills and training to positions which include:
- Real estate brokers
- Special advocates
- Estate and trust officers
Some lawyers have also made careers by combining their technology and legal process expertise to act as litigation support executives, technology consultants, and legal software contributors.
A paralegal certification professional’s job responsibilities depend on which sector they are working in. Here, we have broken down the various fields of profession that a paralegal might choose to join. Accordingly, we have also broken down the job responsibilities that these professionals will need to follow:
Banking and Finance
A paralegal certification professional working in the finance and banking sector might require to undergo the tasks mentioned below:
- Draft paperwork such as contracts, deeds, treaties, agreements, judgments, and other legal documents
- Updating paperwork to ensure that it complies with state law or federal tax requirements
- Engaging in due diligence review Review of bond issuance orders or other regulations
- Communicating with clients as well as other people who are involved in the bond transaction to synchronize document review and timing matters
- Assisting attorneys in the research, drafting, and revision of bond issue documents
- Reviewing fundraising campaign files to evaluate whether the closing conditions were met
Paralegals working in the bankruptcy law sector need to work with attorneys and provide them with debtor representation. Their responsibilities include:
- Participating in client presentations with lawyers
- Collecting petition facts, schedules and statement preparation
- Discussing credit advice and financial management programs with clients
- Performing client interviews to obtain debt vs. assets related information and documentation
- Conducting asset quest and receiving debtor’s credit report to ensure full disclosure enforcement
- Motions for drafting, proposed orders, and notifications about time extensions, lien avoidance, and claims
- Holding clients notified of meetings, courts, and deposit dates Checking debtor’s schedules, accounts, and records for enforcement with U.S. Code of Bankruptcy
Paralegals in the business world work with attorneys involved with business incorporation and creation, limited partnerships, limited liability corporations, and restructurings, mergers, and acquisitions. Some of its responsibilities include:
- Performing due diligence, which includes the performing of UCC searches and figuring out good standing certifications
- Drafting of entity formation documents
- Drafting different organizational documents, which includes company incorporation and name registration
- Drafting various federal and state forms, which also includes SEC filings
- Reporting changes in terms of filing and franchise tax laws
- Drafting appropriate documents for several board meetings
- Preparing annual reports
- Drafting special corporate activities
- Retention of corporate records and their maintenance
- Maintenance of an accurate database of all the threatening and pending litigation
Criminal Defense Law
In the field of criminal defense, paralegals might get involved in tasks like investigation, pretrial, pretrial motions, and discovery response activities. These include:
- Locating witnesses and interviewing them
- Verifying certain information
- Reviewing the state’s evidence
- Assisting in terms of the development of defenses,
- Theory of case,
- Trial strategy
- Drafting applicable requests, motions, and responses
- Supervising exhibits
- Obtaining copies of important documents such as court documents, search warrants, arrest records, and other records
- Locating evidence
- Jury selection
- Attending the pretrial conference
- Coordinating witness’ appearance at legal trials
If you wish to become a paralegal working in the environmental law section, you would need to work alongside an attorney on several environment enforcement cases.
Your job description might often include assisting the attorney in drafting, lobbying, and the development of several documents, along with their review to ensure that the attorney has some solid evidence to file at the court when fighting a certain case.
- Your job tasks would often include the following:
- Preparation of criminal or civil enforcement referral packages
- Reviewing all the pending or new legislation
- Preparing administrative rules
- Responding to public inquiries
- Drafting petitions keeping the demand of formal administrative hearings in mind
- Responding to agency requests
- Analyzing information based on factual investigations
- Researching case law regarding specific environmental issues
Paralegals that work alongside attorneys in the estate planning sector oversee document preparation and certain other activities that surround estate plans. Here are the job responsibilities and duties of the estate planning paralegal professionals:
- Preparation of appropriate tax calculations that are necessary for estate planning
- Participating in several client interviews with the aim of appropriate fact gathering
- Reviewing estate plans and accordingly advising the attorney about the results
- Preparing the drafts of the trust agreement and wills
- Drafting of necessary documents required for funding trusts
- Supervise the execution of trusts and wills
- Arranging beneficiary changes
- Arranging insurance policy ownership changes
- Recording of deeds
- Trading name affidavits
Paralegals those are working with attorneys in the family law settings are required to carry out the responsibilities mentioned below:
- Conducting initial client interviews
- Obtain appropriate information for the pleadings
- Preparing pleadings, namely summons, petitions, responses, and service waivers
- Creating case progression deadlines and monitoring them
- Conduct interviews of the witnesses
- Drafting affidavits
- Working closely alongside clients and gather financial information and later compile them
- Working with financial advisors, accountants, brokers, etc. on the client’s behalf
- Analyzing settlements
- Assist drafting briefs
Paralegals working in the litigation space are required to work alongside attorneys and ensure enforcing or defending any given legal right. This might often include public interest, personal injury, civil or commercial litigation, etc. Here are the several job responsibilities of professional litigation paralegals:
- Conducting and analyzing fact investigation and analysis
- Conducting client interviews
- Interviewing witnesses,
- Obtaining written statements and affidavits
- Analyzing evidence in terms of appropriate documentation
- Participating in the formulation of an appropriate discovery plan and drafting of discovery requests
- Conducting legal research in terms of motion and pleading preparation
- Preparation of witness files
- Analyzing and organizing documents
- Preparing and collecting medical records as per the demands of a specific case
- Preparing demonstration exhibits,
- Preparing pretrial notebooks as well as other documents
- Preparation of trial subpoenas
- Coordination of scheduling witness meets
- Preparing certain settlement agreements
- Drafting dismissal motions and stipulations
As you can see, there are immense possibilities waiting for you in the paralegal sector. If you are committed enough to become one of the well-versed professionals who has a thorough understanding of your trade, we can assure you that a broader success is waiting for you ahead in time.
We believe that by now you have gained enough insight into the profession of a paralegal. And by now, you have already understood how to go ahead and pursue a specific paralegal certification program that would ensure your successful career path. Now, we have also attempted to simplify what awaits your path once you pass from your paralegal college. If you still have any doubts regarding the subject of paralegal certification or wish us to help you in any way, kindly feel free to comment below. We’ll get back to you at the earliest.