In surfing job openings for paralegals and legal assistants, there are a variety of comments on the requirements for applications:
- Paralegal certificate required
- Bachelors degree required, certificate a plus
- ABA paralegal degree preferred
- Certificate preferred
- Degree required, certification a plus
- And the list goes on…
With so much variety in the listings, what does it all mean and how do you become a paralegal so you can take advantage of these job openings?
Paralegals work under the guidance and direction of an attorney. Attorneys are licensed by the state in which they practice, so any specific requirements for being a paralegal are defined by the state. For purposes of this blog, we’re discussing paralegal requirements specifically in Texas. Because the paralegals do work under the direction of an attorney, it’s at the discretion of the attorney to decide on qualifications for the paralegals they hire. However, if an attorney is billing a paralegal’s hours back to a client, then a paralegal needs to have proof of education or a paralegal certificate.
The basics: What is a paralegal certificate?
The ABA defines a paralegal certificate as, “A certificate verifies that a student has successfully completed a paralegal education program.” In a law firm setting, this certificate enables an attorney to bill a paralegal’s hours back to the client. The client benefits by having work billed at a lower rate, while the attorney has a revenue-generating employee.
The term paralegal certificate does often get confused with certification. They are frequently used interchangeably, while they are different terms. There is a certification process where a paralegal can take additional steps to be certified through proof of education, work experience and successful passing of a standardized test. In most circumstances, an employer may just be looking for proof of a certificate but states certification.
A person earns a paralegal certificate by successfully completing the requirements of a program offered by a school, university or other educational institution.
What types of certificates exist?
Generally there are 2 means of earning a certificate: degree programs and non-degree certificate programs. The most common degree programs are either an Associate degree program or a Bachelor degree program (Master-level paralegal programs also exist). Both of these programs will include the general educational requirements that satisfy the degree granting body. This will include a math, social science, English, electives, etc. that may not directly relate to the paralegal knowledge necessary for work as a paralegal. Degree programs will generally take longer and cost more; however, you would end up with an A.A/ B.A. type of degree at the end of the process.
Non-degree certificate programs will focus on content specifically related to the paralegal profession, without having requirements to study content and information that’s outside the scope of paralegal studies (such as a history or math course).
There’s an additional term that you’ll see in job listings and listings of available programs: the ABA approved degree and certificate. The ABA-approved programs have gone through an approval process by the American Bar Association in order to be termed an ABA-approved program.
Next week, check back for more information on the many opportunities that exist for paralegals.