There are a number of ways to gain your paralegal certification and training. The important thing is to pick the certification course that is right for you.
Most students will choose to study for an associate paralegal degree at their local college making sure they cover the legal areas required for the majority of paralegal programs. This is absolutely fine but if you already have a bachelor’s degree, it may be possible for you to shorten the process and qualify as a paralegal simply by taking one of the many paralegal certification online programs currently available.
It is possible to take further paralegal training and study for a bachelor’s in paralegal studies, some schools even offer a master’s degree but it is not necessary if you want to work as a paralegal assistant. Employers used to train paralegals on the job and this can still happen in some smaller firms but most prefer you to have taken formal legal education and ideally attained a paralegal qualification before you join the firm.
What about online paralegal certificate programs?
There can be major differences in the quality of offline and online paralegal certificate programs. Look at what the course has to offer rather than additional extras such as a job placement program. Before you enroll in a course, try to find out what previous graduates thought of the school. You can ask for examination reports to see how many passed and at what grade. In addition to learning the legal basics of documents and working with clients, you will also find out how to conduct legal research with the aid of computers.
What additional benefits should I look for from an online paralegal certification course?
It is worthwhile looking for a paralegal certification program that offers an internship. Relevant experience will look great on your resume. If you already know the field of law you want to specialize in, look for a placement in that area. For example, if you want to work in criminal law, you may want a placement in the office of a public defender.
If you want to work for one of the government agencies then try to get your internship in a government department .In some states competition for jobs is fierce so having relevant internship experience can put your resume at the top of the pile.
What other paralegal certificate programs are there?
It is possible that you could sit a two day exam set by the National Association of Legal Assistants and assuming you pass, you could end up using either the Certified Paralegal (CP) or Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) credential. To be eligible to sit this exam you have to meet certain educational and relevant work experience requirements. If you qualify for NALA certification, it is valid for five years. You can then recertify assuming you have completed the required number of hours of continuing education, currently 50. If you are an existing experienced paralegal, you may want to specialize in a specific area of the Law so might be interested in the NALA advanced paralegal certification. This is available via online schools.
You could also opt for the American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) credential if you have five years relevant experience and meet the existing educational requirements. You have to renew your certification every two years and must complete 18 hours of continuing education in that time period.
Will having a paralegal degree make a difference?
If you have an existing bachelors paralegal degree and two years relevant paralegal work experience you may apply to become a Registered Paralegal (RP), a designation offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). You have to complete at least 12 hours of relevant continuing education every 24 months to keep your credential valid. The Professional Paralegal certification (PP) is available to those who pass a four part examination offered by the National Association of Legal Secretaries (NLAS). You must also complete 75 hours of relevant continuing education to maintain your qualification.