What are the best professional paralegal certifications to earn?
While paralegal certifications are voluntary, earning a professional paralegal certification is the best way to make your resume stand out to employers, increase your salary and qualify you for higher responsibility within your firm. A professional certification is not the same as a traditional or online paralegal certificate earned from a college, which only indicates that you have completed a training program.
Becoming a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or Certified Paralegal (CP) by taking a paralegal certification exam signifies that you are capable of providing superior services. This certification is recognized by the American Bar Association (ABA) as a high level of professional achievement. The CLA or CP credential is recognized by nearly 50 legal assistant organizations and numerous bar associations as well.
There are a number of advanced certifications available as well. You can obtain the Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) credential in specialty areas such as trial practice, contracts management or Social Security disability.
The Professional Paralegal (PP) credential demonstrates your legal knowledge as well as written communication, ethics and judgment skills. Paralegals may also take exams to become a Registered Paralegal (RP), which establishes your knowledge of client legal matters, legal research and writing, office administration and ethics, or CORE Registered Paralegal (CRP), which is designed for new paralegals to prove their abilities in paralegal practice, areas of law, ethics, technology and terminology.
What organizations offer paralegal certifications?
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) has run a paralegal certification program for the CLA and CP credentials since 1976, while the ACP credential began in 1982 as the CLA Specialty program. In 2002, a special task force determined that it was time to redesign the program, resulting in the ACP certification. NALA, founded in 1975, represents over 18,000 paralegals and is the leading paralegal association in the U.S. It offers networking opportunities and continuing education programs to all paralegals.
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), founded in 1974, and was the first national paralegal association. NFPA comprises more than 50 member associations and represents over 9,000 individual members. It has offered the Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCE) for the CRP credential since 2011 and the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) for the RP credential since 1996.
The PP credential is offered through NALS, the Association for Legal Professionals. Formerly known as the National Association of Legal Secretaries, NALS advances professional development by providing continuing legal education, paralegal certification programs and training to those in the legal services industry. Over half of NALS’s membership is composed of legal assistants and paralegals, and PP certification has been offered since 2004.
Can I earn a paralegal certification online?
NALA’s ACP credential is an online paralegal certification program. To be eligible, you must first obtain NALA’s CP or CLA certification. Participants are required to demonstrate mastery of the material throughout the 20-hour course as well as discuss the material and consult outside sources, such as colleagues, reference books and specialty practice area experts. The focus is on education and specific subject matter rather than testing, since candidates have already earned the Certified Paralegal credential. As a result, the ACP program is the only paralegal certification online.
NALS offers online study groups for the PP exam, but taking the test requires that you be physically present at a testing site. NALA’s CLA and CP exams also require a physical presence at a testing site, though they recommend online self-study and live web-based programs for exam preparation.
NFPA offers an online review course for the PCCE exam, but paralegal online certification is not available and you must report to a testing center. For the PACE exam, NFPA and the Advanced Paralegal Institute offer an online 7-week review course. You also have the option of taking a 1-time online practice exam instead of the review course. As with the other certification exams, you must attend a designated testing center for the actual test.