Having the ability to make your mark on the legal system within the United States can be an appealing prospect, especially for those that long to become a paralegal or have already spent years doing just that. Paralegals are able to participate in nearly every aspect of the legal profession, without the rigorous education and training that is often required in order to become a full-fledged lawyer. One of the best aspects of being a paralegal is the ability to use credentialing initials after your name and the benefits that come with it. However, the path to earning these credentials is oftentimes difficult to fully understand. As such, here’s a look at all that is required in order for a paralegal to use credentialing initials after their name.
What is a Paralegal?
For anyone that isn’t entirely sure of what a paralegal is or what paralegal jobs entail, you will find that a paralegal is basically a legal assistant, similar to that of a law clerk. They are often required to cooperate with attorneys by providing certain legal services. Those in the paralegal profession will be tasked with summarizing reports, drafting motions and assisting lawyers within the courtroom.
In order to understand what it takes to use credentialing initials after you’ve become a paralegal, it’s important to be aware of the skills you must possess to excel at the job. While the education and work experience you will go through when training to become a paralegal should help you in this area, the 2 most essential traits that you will need to put into use on a constant basis is that of thorough organizational skills and attention to detail. It will be your job to make a lawyers case-load lighter, in order for them to be at their best within the courtroom, which is why paralegals often find themselves busy with extensive research and paperwork.
One of the greatest benefits of being a paralegal is that it’s entirely possible to focus your studies on one portion of law, such as corporate, criminal or family law, which offers a myriad of choices when obtaining your credentials. Paralegals also have the opportunity to earn paralegal jobs in a wide range of different law settings, as demand for paralegals within the current job market is at a higher demand than ever. However, in order to begin the process of becoming a paralegal and earning the ability to use credentialing initials after your name, there are certain educational requirements that you must first possess.
What Are Credentialing Initials?
For prospective and current paralegals, it can be difficult to know when it’s possible to use credentialing initials after your name due to the fact that there isn’t just 1 organization that offers paralegal credentials. In fact, there are more than a handful of credentials that a rising paralegal can earn from multiple organizations, such as the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. Once you have obtained the necessary qualifications, you are now a fully credentialed paralegal and can use credentialing initials after your name, although other educational requirements must first be met in order for you to have the opportunity to take this exam. Earning credentials will help in making your resume all the more more attractive to potential employers.
One of the primary points of confusion among many prospective paralegals is that there are 2 types of certified paralegals, though only 1 of these groups can use credentialing initials after their name. The first of these can simply be obtained by passing any sort of paralegal education program. These are known as certified paralegals, in the sense that they have earned that job title, but only those that pass the credentialing exam are at the point where they can begin to use credentialing initials. Before you can even think of taking this exam, there are a few things that you must first do.
Required Paralegal Education
Before you are allowed to take the final credentialing exams, there are certain degrees and work experience that you must obtain, such as working as a law clerk for a certain number of years. If you have yet to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, it is possible to become credentialed, though the process is a much more difficult one. For those that don’t have paralegal education, you will often need to gain at least 4 years of typical paralegal work experience in order to earn your credentials. However, with many of the 6 possible credentials, this work experience must have taken place before the year 2000. As this is unlikely for most prospective paralegals, it’s oftentimes a requirement to receive your associate’s or bachelor’s.
For anyone that is looking to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree with a focus on paralegal, you should look for an Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies or a Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies. These 2 degrees contain all the necessary curriculum for a paralegal in training. It’s also possible to obtain a Master’s degree in this area, but it won’t affect your credential eligibility in any way. As with most job titles available, a bachelor’s degree will make the entire process easier and does look better on a resume, though is not essential. However, there are some different requirements for those that obtain these degrees.
For instance, if you happen to earn an associate’s degree in paralegal studies, you will likely be required to have a lengthy total of 6 years of work experience as a paralegal, which may prove to be too long if you’re eager to earn credentialing initials. As for a bachelor’s degree, there are 2 different paths that you can take in order to earn credentials. If you have earned a bachelor’s degree in some other area of law besides that of paralegal studies, then you must have 3 years of paralegal work experience before you are allowed to take the corresponding exam, depending on which credential you’re looking to obtain. However, if you have earned a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies, all that is required of you is a mere 2 years of paralegal work experience in order to take the final certification exam.
Credential Exams and What They Consist Of
A paralegal is not exactly a profession that is fully licensed. As such, different exams must be taken in different situations. Altogether, there are 6 credential types offered to paralegals. Each of these have unique requirements that must be followed if you are to obtain the credentials. These 6 credentials are known as the ACP, AACP, CRP, CP/CLA, PP and RP. Each of these credentials are also administered by different organizations.
The first of these is the ACP, which stands for Advanced Certified Paralegal. The NALA organization mentioned earlier administers the required courses for this credential. For anyone attempting to obtain this credential, you must first earn the CP/CLA credentials as well. As this is an advanced paralegal credential, it’s designed for the user to focus on a specific law subject, such as Criminal Litigation, Personal Injury, Trial Practice, Contract Management and others, allowing you to better diversify your resume.
The AACP credential stands for American Alliance Certified Paralegal and can be obtained by presenting thorough documentation of work experience and previous college education. An exam does not have to be taken. Paralegals must renew this credential every 3 years by completing an 18-hour program. CRP, or Core Registered Paralegal, is one of the newest credentials available and allows paralegals that are new to the profession to obtain the credential through a CORE Competency Exam.
The CP/CLA credential is known as both the Certified Paralegal and Certified Legal Assistant credential. Only attempt to earn this credential if you are sure of your paralegal capabilities, as the 2-day exam is exceedingly difficult and taxing. Once you have earned this credential, you will need to renew it after 5 years time and can do so by completing 50 hours of coursework.
The PP, or Professional Paralegal, credential is distributed by The Association of Legal professionals. This credential can be obtained in 2 distinct ways, through typical exams or lengthier coursework. Those that have earned this credential will need to take 75 hours of coursework after a period of 5 years. After taking 50 hours of coursework, it is possible to earn a certificate based on a legal subject of your choosing, such as Corporate Law, General Law, Civil Law and others.
Lastly, the RP credential stands for Registered Paralegal and can be earned in much the same way as the others, through a Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam that covers all the core subjects an experienced paralegal should know. Only 12 hours of coursework must be taken in 2 year intervals in order to preserve RP eligibility. While each of these 6 different credentials can be difficult to obtain, they will help to advance the career of any aspiring or current paralegal.