Paralegal Certificate Programs
Are paralegal certificate programs worth your time and, more importantly, your money?
Many folks new to this career field are curious about certificate programs. It's not always an easy answer but this article offers guidance on the decision.
Acquiring a Paralegal Certificate
Becoming a paralegal is a process requiring commitment and effort. This isn't surprising since the legal profession is one built around complex issues and tasks.
While a paralegal or legal assistant doesn’t address the same complexities as an attorney, there are still many specialized tasks falling under a paralegal's umbrella of responsibilities.
As such, it's critical the paralegal is properly trained. Such training is available through a paralegal certificate program.
Are They Worth It?
A common question about paralegal certificates would be whether or not they are worth it. For those possessing an Associate's or Bachelor's degree in paralegal studies, the answer may be ‘no’ since they already have an accreditation in the profession.
If you don't have a degree in legal studies than a paralegal certificate is likely a must. A certificate establishes many things such as being formally trained in the basics of the profession and having completed the program at an acceptable (or even high) level of standards.
Many will likely wonder whether a certificate helps with employment. It does! There are many firms that may not hire you without one.
However, this is not the only reason to acquire a certificate.
The main reason for a certificate is your marketability. The certificate shows your commitment to completing a program and gaining a clear education of paralegal services.
This certainly is appealing on a resume to a potential employer.
Are There Any Cons?
It would seem strange to assume there are cons associated with paralegal training through paralegal certificate programs. However, there might be a few drawbacks. One would be the assumption you will come with a high salary requirement or that the particular certifying agency may not prove appealing to certain employers.
As to the high salary, when you're starting out in this career after graduation, you won't need to worry about a high salary necessarily. Your background and skills are essential and will be evaluated, but you pretty much want a job to "cut your teeth on" and gain experience.
Law firm and corporate employers know this about recent college graduates.
On the other hand, you may have a challenge when you don't come from an ABA approved program. Why? Because ABA approved programs set the requirements that most lawyers feel very comfortable with knowing you've got the basics of the profession under your belt.
Another potential con is certain certificate programs mandate a degree as a prerequisite to enrollment. In general, though, you won't find too many drawbacks associated with acquiring a paralegal certificate.
What to do if you don't attend an ABA approved program? Not to worry, you can obtain certification through NALA - the National Association of Legal Assistants.
They offer an exam to certify you as a paralegal. It's a designation you can add to your resume and it takes the pressure off of those folks who didn't have access to an ABA approved program.
The designation from NALA really shows your commitment to the legal profession.
NALA's exam is broken down into five sections:
- Legal research,
- Judgment and Analytical Ability, and
- Substantive law.
You'll need to complete the requirements of this organization to be recognized by it. A designation by NALA of your commitment to the paralegal profession improves employment opportunities.
Paralegal certificate programs offer a short cut to the paralegal profession if you already possess a degree. If you don't have a degree you can complete a program and then consider taking the NALA exam to further support your marketability and value.
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