Certifications provide enhanced credibility and increased value to any professional designation. Certification typically requires passing an examination based on certain predetermined qualification specifications following completion of certain specified educational requirements sometimes including minimum work experience prior to taking the exam.
Certification usually follows specialized formal education, and often basic regulatory licensing, to confirm a particular level of knowledge and competence in application of particular relevant skills. Using uniform examination of skills provides meaningful and comparable recognition of various levels of advanced achievement within a given career field.
Securing legally required licensing issued by a governmental or professional regulatory agency or board often requires some manner of certification as a prerequisite. For example, accountants must pass a rigorous certification exam in order to receive their designation, and licensing, as a Certified Public Accountant. In most states a CPA designation, or certification, is required by law in order to perform accounting or auditing work for the general public.
Why obtain a particular certification? Certification readily verifies your skills and abilities for potential employers or clients who may not be familiar with you. Certification may be legally required in certain jurisdictions before representing yourself to the public as qualified to perform professional paralegal functions or job duties. Certification lets the general public know that your skill, ability, and knowledge has been examined or “tested” in a uniform manner by an official accrediting, or “certifying”, organization. It also improves your marketability to employers. Certification verifies your status as a qualified professional possessing certain levels of skill and demonstrates a high level of commitment to your professional career. The American Bar Association defines certification as “a process by which a non-governmental agency or association grants recognition to an individual who has met certain predetermined qualifications specified by that agency or association.”
Certification for paralegals is currently voluntary in the U.S. However, state legislatures and state bar associations have been discussing implementation of laws and regulations governing paralegals, which inevitably include regulatory licensing (i.e. certification) for several years. Many paralegals obtain professional designations after they have gained a few years’ experience in the field. While certification is not a prerequisite to paralegal employment, it may enhance your professional credibility, employment prospects, and income potential.
It is not unusual for several different accrediting organizations to exist for certifying the professionals of a particular profession; or, activities within a profession. There are, for example, numerous certifications available to licensed insurance professionals or accountants depending upon the particular individual’s specific area(s) of expertise. Such certifications usually indicate achievement of a special level of advanced expertise in a particular area of the profession, such as a Chartered Life Underwriter, or CLU, who specializes in life insurance as opposed to a property and casualty or medical insurance specialist.
Numerous accrediting or certifying authorities exist for uniformly regulating and qualifying of specific skills within most professions beginning with verification of basic qualifications and capabilities and extending to various advanced levels of skills achievement. Several organizations issue certifications for paralegal professionals. It is important to examine each and determine which are most applicable and important to your specific circumstances and needs.
The predominant organizations currently examining and certifying paralegal qualifications are the American Alliance of Paralegals which issues the American Alliance Paralegal Certification (“AAPC”), the National Association of Legal Assistants (known as “NALA”) which issues the Certified Legal Assistant (“CLA”) and Certified Paralegal (“CP”) certifications, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations which provides Registered Paralegal (“RP”) certification, and the National Association for Legal Professionals which provides the Professional Paralegal (“PP”) certification.