Overview of the Certification
Paralegals play an important role within a legal team and can assist with a variety of functions from legal research to assisting at trials. There is not a one size fits all approach to becoming a paralegal. Some individuals have earned the title by working themselves up from a receptionist position while others have obtained extensive formal training that resulted in a certificate or degree.
Although formal training is not a requirement for becoming a paralegal obtaining formal training provides individuals with the opportunity to specialize in a particular area of this rewarding field and also expand into a niche within the legal industry like an e-Discovery specialization, environmental advocacy, construction defect law, workers compensation specialist, Court Appointed Special Advocate for children, and more
Within the profession, there is a wide range of titles that come along with the job
- Bankruptcy Specialist
- Contract Administrator
- Corporate Paralegal
- E-discovery Specialist
- Elder Law Paralegal
- Foreclosure Specialist
- Immigration Paralegal
- Legal Analyst
- Legal Assistant
- Litigation Paralegal
- Real Estate Paralegal
- Regulatory Specialist
- Social Security Disability Specialist
Paralegals are required to work under the supervision of a lawyer and avoid activities that might be regarded as unauthorized practice of law. For example, paralegals are not permitted to represent people in court. Paralegals may conduct legal research, submit registration documents to the appropriate agencies, and assist with certain types of legal matters, including trial cases, under the supervision of a lawyer.
Paralegal certifications are short, self-contained programs that offer students the chance to develop knowledge and skills, but do not lead to a diploma or degree. Certificates can be useful for students who already have a degree or for those who are employed in the legal field and wish to enhance their on-the-job training.
Educational Requirements for Paralegals
- Complete at least the minimum mandated credits in paralegal studies at an accredited or state-approved college or university
- Complete a bachelor’s degree in any field and one year of experience working under the supervision of a California lawyer who has been licensed for at least three years or works in the federal court system in California
- Complete a paralegal certificate program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA)
Most of the ABA-approved California paralegal education programs listed above contain a work experience component, or internship. If you are in need of further experience before moving on with your career plans to become a paralegal in California, you might want to contact one of the following groups that work with those in need on a free or reduced-cost basis. Agencies such as these served 214,458 Californians in 2012:
- Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County
- Legal Services of Northern California, Inc.
- Legal Aid Society of San Diego, Inc.
- Legal Aid Society of Orange County, Inc.
- Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
- Inland Counties Legal Services, Inc.
- Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, Inc.
- Central California Legal Services
- California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc.
- California Indian Legal Services, Inc.
- Bay Area Legal Aid
Certification is optional for California paralegals under state law. However, certification allows you as a paralegal to specialize in certain areas of the law and to seek further advancement in your career. The Commission for Advanced California Paralegal Specialization, Inc. recommends the following certifications to California paralegals who are considering certification:
- Certified Legal Assistant/California Advanced Specialist (CLA/CAS): These credentials may be earned in the following ways:
- CAS (stand-alone) – may be pursued if you are a paralegal who is already a CLA or CP (Certified Paralegal). In order to earn the CAS, you must complete 10 to 20 courses
- CAS and APC (Advanced Paralegal Certified) combination – may be pursued if you already hold a CLA or CP and wish to earn an APC and CAS in a specialty area. You must complete three to five courses and learn differences between federal and California laws and procedures.
Benefits of a Paralegal Certification
- The median annual income for a paralegal in May 2012 was $46,990 with the top 10% of paralegals earning more than $74,410. According to several sources, salaries for paralegals will continue to rise. Starting paralegal salaries are expected to rise 3% in 2015 and a 2014 survey by ALM/IPMA revealed increases in pay for litigation support paralegals
- Unlike some other types of careers, paralegals can get a degree in as little as one to two years. Some paralegal schools offer paralegal certificates; however, paralegal degrees are typically required for jobs paying higher salaries. Most attorneys prefer candidates from an ABA-approved paralegal school.
- Paralegals have the opportunity to advance within the law firm as well as their career. Many paralegals advance to supervisor positions or other management positions.
- Paralegals aren’t limited to working in law firms. Many other employers use paralegals such as in-house legal departments in corporations, hospitals, banks, armed forces, government agencies, insurance companies, and finance companies
- Paralegals can choose to freelance rather than work for one employer. As independent contractors, paralegals still work under the direct supervision of the attorney
- As a paralegal, you can choose to specialize in a specific area of law and obtain certification as a specialist. This often translates into a higher salary and more demand for your services.
An important consideration when choosing between pursuing a paralegal certificate vs. paralegal degree is what it will mean in terms of finding employment? Holding a degree does not necessarily ensure landing a better or higher paying job. Many individuals who complete certificate programs become successful and highly regarded paralegals. While a degree is usually better, law firms typically don’t pay higher salaries because a person has a degree. An individual’s experience is what more often determines salary.
The salary for a paralegal ranges between 55000 USD and 97 USD with the national average ranging around 70000 USD. The range also varies depending on the experience they have, the field of law they would be working in, and the kind of work they would be involved in.