Networking for Paralegals
Although paralegals existed in the U.S. well before then, the paralegal career began to develop rapidly during the1960s and continued to expand with increasing speed throughout the 1970s and 1980s as attorneys and law firms began utilizing assistants qualified by specialized training or experience to help with document drafting, client and witness interviews, deposition summaries, case investigations, and other duties requiring specialized knowledge of the legal profession.
As more attorneys began adding this type of legal assistance to their practices, in the late 1960s the American Bar Association formed a Standing Committee on Legal Assistance made up of both attorneys and professional paralegals to help create and establish uniform standards for the evolving role in the legal profession known as paralegal or legal assistant.
The American Bar Association offers educational institutions offering courses in paralegal instruction or conferring paralegal degrees or certificates a certification program resulting in the formal ABA stamp of approval for the institution’s program. This provides the American Bar Association the opportunity to set uniform standards for paralegal education.
Several national professional associations, or organizations, exist for paralegal membership. Most of them have been instrumental in forging the paralegal job into a professional career and recognized profession. Each opens up practically unlimited networking opportunities for its members.
Two of these professional organizations, the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), together represent over 30,000 paralegals throughout the United States. These organizations, while each exist and work to serve and advance the paralegal profession, have been competitive in establishing the terminology shaping the profession. The NFPA prefers using the term paralegal to describe the professional title of its members while NALA prefers the term legal assistant. Currently, the trend appears to be more towards describing these professionals as paralegals.
The American Alliance of Paralegals (AAP) was born in 2003 and quickly began setting standards in the field. It serves individuals in the paralegal field. Its members are required to meet certain educational or work experience guidelines in order to qualify as voting members. This organization was the first national paralegal organization to set minimum educational standards and guidelines.
The American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) is another organization comprised of institutions and teachers of paralegal education programs whose mission is consistent paralegal education standards.
To join a national paralegal professional organization, first learn which associations are active in your area. Visit with other paralegals in your area to see if they are members of any of these organizations.
If you are just beginning your career as a paralegal, explore how membership in a professional organization may help you advance your career plans. An organization offering networking or electronic employment opportunity bulletin boards would benefit you as you enter the field and continue to benefit you as your career advances. If you are a student intending to enter the paralegal field, a national organization may be able to connect you to internships, scholarships, or other financial assistance.