If you are interested in the paralegal profession, then it's important to understand the difference between being a certified paralegal and having a certificate in paralegal studies.
A person who has successfully completed a paralegal education and training program may receive a certificate. Receiving this certificate designates the conclusion of the educational process. It does not mean that this person is “certified” as a paralegal.
A certified paralegal is a paralegal that has completed a certification exam and has met specific requirements. The requirements, in general, include:
graduation from an accredited paralegal program
acceptable performance on a qualifying examination or series of examinations, and/or
completion of a given amount of work experience
There are several organizations that offer certification exams.
The National Association of Paralegals (NALA) awards the designation Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or Certified Paralegal (CP) to persons who have met its requirements, which include passing a competency exam. Advanced specialty certification (CLAS) exams are also administered by NALA, as are a few state-specific advanced competency examinations. www.nala.org
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) awards the designation Registered Paralegal (RP) to persons who have met its requirements for education and work experience and who have passed the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE). www.paralegals.org
NALS, the Association for Legal Professionals, offers three unique paralegal certifications of varying levels. www.nals.org
The Texas Board of Legal Specialization offers a voluntary specialty certification program in six areas of Texas law. Other states have state-specific examinations. www.txpd.org
Why it's Important
Attorneys are encouraged by their State Bar Associations to promote continuing education and excellence among their paralegals. A paralegal that successfully completes a professional Certification Exam helps ensure employers and clients that they possess a specified level of understanding and competence.