According to the National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc. (NALA), more than 12,000 paralegals have earned the professional designation “Certified Paralegal” (CP) since the organization began sponsoring the certification exam in 1976.
While obtaining a certified paralegal credential is a voluntary certification process that can improve a resume, it’s not an entry-level requirement to enter the field. So why should a paralegal consider becoming certified?
Becoming a certified paralegal can demonstrate to employers the commitment a paralegal has to the profession and represents mastery of certain skills and knowledge necessary for success in the industry.
While many employers don’t have a preference as to whether or not a paralegal be certified, it is usually best to check job descriptions and employer preferences to see if this could be a requirement to land a certain position.
Years ago, when the supply of paralegals was much smaller than the demand for them, entry-level paralegals could enter the field with no certification, degree, or even experience. But in the last couple of decades, competition in the field has increased dramatically.
Now, certification is becoming the standard that can improve professional credibility. If you’re looking for a way to set yourself apart when it comes to applying for jobs, a paralegal certificate can help you highlight why you are the better choice for the job.
The most marketable law firms have a culture of thought leadership and don’t just hire qualified lawyers and paralegals—they especially value thought leaders. A law firm that employs only certified paralegals can market itself as such, advertising that both their attorneys and paralegal staff possess the specialization and experience necessary to handle the most complicated cases and legal issues.
Pointing this out to your supervisor can even help if you are hoping to convince your law firm to help pay for the certificate program, or if you want to ensure that you will be allowed flexible hours.
Certified paralegals have demonstrated that they have the level of competence required to pass a certification exam and maintain the credential. This ability is not lost on clients, who want their matters handled by experienced professionals.
Attorneys also know the value of keeping clients happy and meeting their expectations as efficiently as possible. They understand that certified paralegals have additional training on how to handle clients and keep them coming back. Not to mention making clients more likely to elicit referrals, the backbone of any successful law practice.
Another advantage of paralegal certification is the potential to earn a higher income, both in salary as well as benefits – an average salary increase of $4,880, according to NALA. This increase is due in part to the very fact that a paralegal certification is not required, and so is considered additional knowledge obtained voluntarily. Which inherently makes a certified paralegal more valuable and an asset to a law firm or legal department.
While achieving paralegal certification is a challenge on its own, in order to maintain this credential, certified paralegals are required to continuously update their knowledge. NALA requires paralegals to undergo recertification every five years, and to be eligible, they must:
Since recertification renewal requires multiple training courses, certified paralegals are continually refreshing their knowledge and staying up to date on developments within the legal industry.
Although paralegal certification is a voluntary process, as laws change and the legal industry continues to grow, states are expected to begin to require certification. Becoming certified prior to any future legislation could save time and money and reduce the inconvenience of such mandates. Paralegals who have earned certification will likely be ahead of those who need to return to school or obtain certification should it become mandatory in their state.
For paralegals who plan to eventually attend law school and become attorneys, passing a paralegal certification exam is a step ahead that will require them to gain in-depth knowledge of certain practice areas and prepare them to take the rigorous Law School Admission Test (LSAT), before law school.
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