How to Become a Certified Paralegal


A certified paralegal or certified legal assistant is a professional who has credentials from NALA--National Association of Legal Assistants. If you have already graduated from a paralegal or legal assistant degree program, the next accomplishment you can put on your resume is certification from NALA. It is possible to find paralegal jobs without this extra credential, but many law firms prefer to hire legal assistants who are certified. Certification requires passing an exam and taking continuing education classes. NALA requires that you take 50 credits of paralegal courses every 5-year period in order to stay certified.

The first step in becoming a CLA or CP is to visit the website of NALA to learn about the benefits of obtaining their CLA/CP credential. If you achieve certification, you may call yourself either a CP (Certified Paralegal) or CLA (Certified Legal Assistant); the terms "paralegal" and "legal assistant" are considered interchangeable. The designation you choose is a matter of personal preference.

Next, make sure you are eligible to take NALA's certification exam. You are eligible if you meet at least one of these three criteria:

(1) You have completed a degree in paralegal studies from an accredited program.
(2) You hold a Bachelor's degree in some field AND you have either 1 year of paralegal experience or equivalent coursework.
(3) You have a high school diploma or GED equivalent AND at least 7 years of experience working as a legal assistant for a member of the Bar.

If you are eligible, the next step is to apply for one of the exam dates. The CLA/CP exam is administered only three times a year, and the application deadline is two months prior to the exam date.

Take time to study for the CLA/CP exam. The test is comprehensive and covers five core topics: ethics, research, analytical ability, communications, and substantive law. There are several types of question, including true/false, multiple choice, matching, and essay. Purchase several study guides and take timed practice tests. Commit to a study schedule so that you can measure your progress. If you have test anxiety, taking a sample test every one or two weeks will increase your confidence by test day.

Review any practice questions you answer incorrectly so that you understand why the right answers are right, and why the wrong answers wrong. The CLA/CP exam is a standardized test, and like any other standardized test, you can ace it if you learn to think like the test designer. The more you practice, the better you will learn how to pick the right answers.

The minimum passing score is at least 70% on each section. Keep this number in mind as a goal while you study.

Remember that your Paralegal Certification is valid for 5 years. To renew it, you must complete 50 hours of continuing education credits during its 5-year valitidy period. You can find paralegal and law classes at your local community college, or you can take online legal assistant courses. Attending seminars and conferences, even teaching paralegal classes may also count toward those 50 hours. NALA also offers webinars and self-study courses that you can apply toward your continuing education requirement.

© Had2Know 2010

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