Paralegal Certification & Training Schools

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Becoming a Paralegal might be the perfect position for you to get a feel for law office work before investing in law school. Paralegals, also known as “legal assistants,” held over 263,000 jobs in just this year alone.

This number is projected to grow 28 percent by 2018, which is faster than most other occupations.

Employers are trying to reduce expenses and increase efficiency by delegating fewer tasks to expensive lawyers, and as the population expand, the demand is increasing for more services.

The vast majority of paralegals (71 percent) work in private law firms, but many others work for corporations or within government bodies like the U.S. Department of Justice, the Social Security Administration or the U.S. Department of the Treasury. A few paralegals may work for themselves as consultants to banks, insurance providers, attorneys and realtors.

So What is a Paralegal?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, busy lawyers are routinely delegating the lion’s share of their tasks to paralegals. Essentially, paralegals are allowed to perform any task within a law office except setting legal fees, offering legal counsel to clients and representing cases in court.

Typically, these legal assistants spend significant time in the office or law libraries conducting research, drafting paperwork, fielding phone calls and preparing supporting documents for court cases.

How Do You Become a Paralegal?

Before becoming a lawyer, students must spend four years in college, plus three additional years in law school and pass a written bar examination. On the other hand, paralegals need only an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree and a certificate in paralegal studies.

Most paralegals begin in community college programs where they take courses such as: Family Law, Business Law, Criminal Law, Legal Research, Law & Ethics, Legal Writing, Wills & Trusts, and Interviewing & Investigation.

Typically, a paralegal certificate program for people who already hold a college degree takes four months or less to complete.

The best paralegal education centers provide job placement services and access to exclusive internships. Out of the 1,000 colleges and universities offering a paralegal program, 260 are approved by the American Bar Association, which is not required but offers better job opportunities for graduates.

What is a Paralegal Certification?

Certification is not essential for every position, but the students who seek voluntary certification have a significant competitive advantage over those who do not.

Note: For more detailed information on the organizations listed below, visit our national paralegal organizations directory page.

The National Association of Legal Assistants offers a two-day exam for students who wish to be a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or Certified Paralegal (CP). Those who wish to specialize in a certain area can take the Advanced Paralegal Certification program online. To maintain certification, individuals will need to take 50 hours of continuing education credits every five years.

The American Alliance of Paralegals Inc. offers another certification program for those who wish to have the American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) credential. Paralegals may be eligible for this distinction after five years of experience. To renew, they must complete 18 hours of continuing education every two years.

A third certifying body is the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), which allows professionals to become a Registered Paralegal (RP) and offers the PACE exam for Paralegals. This designation is available to paralegals with bachelor’s degrees and two or more years in the field. Recertification is available every two years with 12 hours of continuing education.

The National Association of Legal Secretaries offers a Professional Paralegal certification to people who pass a four-part exam. To obtain recertification, paralegals must complete 75 hours of continuing education.

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The Paralegal Training Process

If your interested in becoming a certified paralegal, graduating from a paralegal program and obtaining certification are just the beginning steps of life-long learning for a legal assistant. Since laws are being drafted and amended all the time, it is crucial that paralegals stay abreast of any changes that affect their area of expertise.

For this reason, ongoing training, online courses, seminars, workshops and mixers are constantly being attended.

There is also some training that takes place within companies, which allows experienced paralegals the ability to receive expanded responsibilities or move around to different departments.

Paralegal Job Description

So what exactly does a paralegal do?

One of the paralegal’s chief responsibilities is helping lawyers prepare for meetings, trials, hearings and closings. The paralegal investigates all the facts of the case to make sure the information is accurate and that nothing has been left out. They look up laws, judicial actions and legal articles that apply to a particular case and write up reports recommending how the case should be handled, given this information.

Paralegals also draw up important documents like pleadings, motions, affidavits, mortgages, contracts, separation agreements, tax returns, trust funds and other legal paperwork.

A good paralegal is excellent at organizing, filing and retrieving data.  Some paralegals work for enterprises, writing up financial reports, developing stock-option plans, filing taxes and crafting employee benefit programs.

A paralegal may be involved in everything from immigration, labor disputes, class action suits and real estate to divorce, bankruptcy, personal injury and criminal law.

Paralegal Salary Ranges – What You Can Expect

The salary of a paralegal ranges from as low as $23,000 to as high as $110,000.

Most paralegals in the field make between $36,080 and $59,310, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics data. As with any field, salaries depend upon a myriad of discerning factors like credential, state, company size, specialty and industry.

Now for the golden question… which paralegal certification should I get? Which one pays the most?

Here is a quick list so you can see how the paralegal certifications stack up:

The National Association of Legal Assistants

  • Certified Legal Assistant: $30,639 – $69,531
  • Certified Paralegal: $30,008 – $62,714

The American Alliance of Paralegals Inc

  • American Alliance Certified Paralegal: $42,000 – $52,825

National Federation of Paralegal Associations

  • Registered Paralegal: Data Updating

The National Association of Legal Secretaries

  • Professional Paralegal: Data Updating

The salary of a paralegal also varies by…

  • State – with some of the best places being California, New York, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Illinois. Large cities offer the best pay advantages.
  • Company Size – with the more, the merrier. Smaller firms pay out $25,000 to $54,000 usually, while larger firms that employ thousands may pay $46,000 to $81,000.
  • Specialty – with the highest paid paralegals specializing in real estate, medical records and organizational development.
  • Industry – with the best paying opportunities in government, followed by corporations and insurance companies.

The paralegal position often comes with handsome compensation for all the long hours and grueling research. Paralegals typically receive vacation time, paid sick leave, life insurance, personal paid time off, health insurance, a savings account and tuition reimbursement.

Be sure to browse the rest of our site while you’ll find helpful paralegal articles and local paralegal certification programs that are available in your area today!

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