Everything You Need to Know About Paralegal Certifications
First things first, we have already discussed many crucial aspects of becoming and being a paralegal in the first article of this two-post series on paralegal certification. If you haven’t already read the first post, you would absolutely want to do so right away by clicking here.
With that said, in this article, we will be going a little deeper into discussing paralegal certifications and other important aspects of the profession.
Getting a Certificate and Being Certified – There’s a Difference!
Apparently, many mistakes getting a paralegal certificate as being certified as a paralegal. To put it in a very straightforward way, it simply isn’t.
The thing is, most schools only offer a paralegal certificate, but don’t help you get certified. Getting a paralegal certificate or degree, however, is obviously a crucial step in becoming a paralegal.
Once you have obtained a certificate from a school, you need to meet other requirements for paralegal certification, which basically involves taking qualification exams offered by paralegal associations or state agencies. It’s also important to note that there may be other educational and/or professional requirements to be met as well, depending on the paralegal or state association you’re getting certified through.
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) are two well-known professional associations through which you can get certified as a paralegal.
Understanding Different Levels of Paralegal Education
Well, now that you’re aware of the clear differences between getting a paralegal certificate or degree and getting certified as a paralegal, let’s take a look at the different types of paralegal certificate programs as well as exactly how long does it take to become a paralegal.
We have actually also discussed this in some detail in the first article right here, but we will be trying to understand some of the more specific things in more detail below.
Firstly, most paralegal certificates can only be obtained if you have completed a baccalaureate program. What this actually means is that you need to have either a bachelor’s or an associate’s degree, with the latter being the least you may need to be in order to become a paralegal.
However, this requirement is not restricted to paralegal education. In other words, you just need to have one of the said degrees; it doesn’t matter which field it represents. It can be in fine arts, political science, business or just about any other field out there.
The underlying element of this requirement is that it ensures that the student that wants to be a paralegal has managed to develop a firm foundation that includes math, English, humanities, among other things, as well as is adequately skilled in writing, reading, researching, and communication.
Now, if you did read our first article on this topic, you know that an associate’s degree program takes 2 years and a bachelor’s program takes four years to complete. However, there are some certificate programs that anyone who has completed their high school can enroll in. These obviously don’t offer the same level of education as the post-baccalaureate programs do, but they are a great start to anyone looking to make a career as a paralegal or in the legal industry in general.
The major distinction between the said types of programs is that the post-baccalaureate ones are more like graduate programs, while the ones you can enroll in as soon as you have completed your high school education provide you a kind of technical continuing education in the field of paralegals. However, these technical education programs are far from “complete” as they are not complemented by much general education which is what many employers look for.
So, as you can see, the time it takes for you to become a paralegal may depend on quite a few factors, including whether you already have a bachelor’s, or at least an associate’s degree, as well as whether you’re only looking to complete paralegal certificate programs that you’re eligible to enroll in right after completing high school.
Specialties in the Field of Paralegals
Just as there are many different types of lawyers boasting expertise in a very specific area of law, there are many specialties when it comes to the field of paralegals as well. As against many paralegals who go for the type of education that helps them become more of a legal generalist than anything else, paralegals specializing in a particular area of the legal industry would have to pursue education concentrated and very specific to that area.
Here are some of the specific areas of law that paralegals can specialize in.
Estate Planning and Probate
There are many large corporations that require paralegals to review their contracts and documents, carry out a lot of research relevant to their legal matters, as well as ensure compliance with the federal laws. Jobs of this nature place a great deal of emphasis on research and documentation skills.
A fairly common area to specialize in for paralegals, immigration paralegal programs are pretty much about learning the immigration laws in the US in great detail.
As far as the skills required when looking for a job is concerned, knowledge and understanding of all legal elements relevant to immigration are crucial.
This is a highly specific area of law and paralegals opting for it find themselves solely working on things related to trademarks, copyrights, and patents.
The education is exclusively focused towards intellectual property legislation and working with clients on relevant matters.
Paralegal Certificate Cost
If you’re looking to become a paralegal, it’s only natural for you to want to know how much paralegal certificate programs can set you back. However, the only thing we can tell for sure about the costs is that they can vary greatly depending on your current level of education and the specific field you’re looking to get into, among other factors.
That said, here’s an estimate of how much the different paralegal certificate and degree programs may cost you.
- Associate’s degree – Over $6,000
- Bachelor’s degree – About $30,000
- Paralegal certificate program for those already having a bachelor’s degree – About $6,000
- Master’s degree – About $14,000
However, some of the more expensive programs in very specific paralegal fields can cost you well over $30,000. Needless to mention, you would want to be absolutely sure about pursuing the field of paralegals as your career as it’s a huge investment.