Paralegal Certification

February 14th, 2011

Currently, a paralegal certification is not a precondition to get the job, but most people choose to learn the ropes and get the certificate. In the last fifty years, the number of paralegals has grown, and the demand for new paralegals is always there. Lawyers need someone that can do the job and they need professionals that know the business and what it takes to win a case.

Not a Must

Getting a paralegal certification is not a must, but some will say it actually is. According to them, paralegals who pass the certification process bring more value and  skills such as data research, capacity, professional ethics, knowledge of laws and conventional legal processes, professional writing and higher communication abilities.

Also, they argue that lawyers would prefer to hire those who have learned and gone through professional training because it shows seriousness and long-term thinking. There is always competition, and just as in any other job, the best one wins.

Salary Differences

While the paralegal certification is a not a precondition for working in law firms or for the government as a legal assistant, the fact that a person has a certificate that can prove his or her knowledge can increase the salary to 50% more than an uncertified colleague. It can even change the way they are introduced in front of costumers and other paralegals.

These claims make sense and have been proved a few times in the past in other professions that don’t necessarily require certification.

Formality and Paralegal Certification

Law firms cannot list their paralegals as their legal assistants if they have no certification. By having the “certified paralegal” next to your name, you can get the appropriate recognition and jobs. Most law firms will not list you if you haven’t gone through the certification process, and you can’t blame them. They want their clients to trust them and to know that they are handled by the best. Listing an uncertified paralegal can ruin that trust.

There are two leading national agencies offering designations to paralegals who meet voluntary regulation specifications:

  • National Association of Legal Assistants – NALA. They offer a certified legal assistant examination. The exam is actually a 2-day examination that will designate those who pass as Certified Legal Assistant or Certified Paralegal. They call it CLA and CP. Both of the designations are trademarks owned by NALA.
  • National Federation of Paralegal Associations – NFPA. They offer the PACE – Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam. The exam contains several legal topics and will last four hours. If you pass the exam you are called a PACE-Registered Paralegal and have the “RP” designation.

Fight Your Way Up

Just like lawyers, paralegals fight their way up the ladder to get best cases and more money. The job is demanding, and uncertified paralegals are sometimes offended by others who don’t recognize them as professionals, even if they have much more knowledge and experience than the young lawyer sitting next to them.

Not having the certificate might cause a few problems in the future, if certifications become a must-have requirement. We are not prophets and we can’t see the future, so all we can do is make sure we are covered and work hard to make our dreams come true.

Paralegal certification is needed. You don’t want to submit resumes and find out that all the “good” jobs have been taken by certified paralegals. By getting the certification you will be more recognized and you will be able to ask for more money as a professional. Law firms will chase you instead of you chasing them. There are more than 1,000 colleges and universities in the United States alone that can give you the desired certification and help you start on a new career.

Are paralegals in demand?

May 2nd, 2013

In today’s economy, any job that promises huge success with minimal work should be examined carefully. The recent economic upheaval proved that no job is guaranteed, and even staples like teaching and accounting suffered losses.

Fortunately for those seeking a permanent solution to economic hardships, there are industries that always demand more people. One of these is the legal profession, where attorneys, paralegals and legal assistants can find constant work even in the roughest times. Becoming a paralegal requires specific education and training, but compared with other careers, the rate of return is much more promising. People will always need attorneys, and attorneys will always need support staff. The following offers useful information regarding the past, present and future prospects of a paralegal career.

Where did paralegals come from?

The paralegal profession is a relatively new one, dating back to the late 1960s. Though law clerks have long existed, paralegals partially grew out of a two-fold need: attorneys needed to focus on their practices, and growing law firms needed to outsource their administrative needs to people who could understand the complexities of the job. In addition, law firms needed to assign tasks such as filing, research and drafting documents to support staff, thus alleviating some of the salary expectations from top attorneys.

In an article on the history of this profession in the Michigan Bar Journal, Susan McCabe states: “The roots of the paralegal profession can be traced to the late 1960s when Congress, law firms, local bar associations, and the American Bar Association (ABA) began significant efforts to increase access to legal services and reduce poverty in the United States.” Because the increasingly complex legal system led to an increase in the cost of legal representation, paralegals assumed many basic legal tasks for people who could not otherwise afford a licensed attorney. These people were trained in the legal field as legal assistants and held a variety of other titles, but they were not licensed. Furthermore, there was no real regulation of the paralegal industry, meaning that people acting as paralegals shared no common degree or training; most received on-the-job training from the practices for which they worked.

This changed throughout the 1970s, as the American Bar Association (ABA) began implementing definitions of “legal assistants” (what are now paralegals) and prescribing educational standards for the profession. McCabe notes: “In 1973, there were 31 paralegal programs . . . Today, there are more than 1,000 paralegal educational programs in the U.S. alone, and slightly more than 250 of these programs carry full or provisional approval by the ABA.” People entering the paralegal profession today must adhere to stricter ABA guidelines concerning education, training and work performance than their legal assistant predecessors.

Paralegals Today

The paralegal industry has changed in 40 years, but it’s still not as regulated as other professions. Some paralegals working for solo practitioners and small firms may not have as much education or even an actual degree. In these cases, the term “paralegal” is a status title based on work experience rather than an indication of education. While this might be true in many small firms around the country, paralegals working for larger firms must have the educational background in order to work as a paralegal. Many reasons exist for this, the basic being:

  • Education provides paralegals with a formal course of study to prepare them for the workforce.
  • In order to remain competitive, paralegals should have as many certifications as practical and possible.
  • While paralegals cannot by law give legal advice, they must work on complex legal issues, which requires certain knowledge and aptitude.

Paralegals might work in a wide variety of fields, which may or may not be directly related to a law firm. McCabe notes: “Although the vast majority of paralegals work for private law firms, paralegals are found in every type of employment setting wherever legal issues arise.” Because the paralegal position ranges, paralegals stand a better chance of employment if they complete the necessary education.

Paralegals can expect to perform a variety of tasks, which means that the position remains useful and even crucial to some organizations. As noted above, not every paralegal works for a law firm. The skills required to become a paralegal transfer to other companies, which makes pursuing this type of work more valuable long-term.

The Future of Legal Professionals

The outlook for a paralegal today is promising, and the future is even brighter. On the online job board Indeed.com, a paralegal can find almost 7,900 jobs nationwide for the position as of the time of this writing. This number will remain steady, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics states in their annual outlook report. In 2010, there were 256,000 paralegal jobs in the United States, and this number is expected to increase 18% in the next ten years. The median salary for a paralegal in 2010 was just over $46,000 per year, and the entry level education was an associate’s degree. This means that with minimum education, a paralegal can earn a decent wage performing a wide variety of interesting tasks in different organizations.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, “As employers try to reduce costs and increase the efficiency of legal services, they are expected to hire more paralegals and legal assistants.” This indicates that even in a time when many companies cut back on staffing, the paralegal profession remains strong. Becoming a paralegal promises steady growth and opportunity thanks to the consistent demand for legal services.

This steady demand in paralegal professionals means that additional regulation may be required. As the profession inevitably becomes more regulated, paralegals should consider increasing their certifications and investing in additional education to make them more viable in the next wave of employment. The future looks bright for legal professionals, and with the right training and education, paralegals will hold a steady job even in uncertain economic times.

Immigration Paralegal Training

April 30th, 2013

Becoming a legal resident of the United States can be a daunting and intimidating task, and many seek the assistance of immigration attorneys to help them navigate through the process.

Immigration attorneys assist people with establishing citizenship or obtaining green cards or visas. They help clients with understanding immigration laws, completing the necessary paperwork, collecting documentation and interacting with federal agencies such as the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, State, Labor and Health and Human Services. An integral part of any immigration legal team is the immigration paralegal, who does a great deal of research and collection of information.

Anyone interested in becoming an immigration paralegal must first fulfill the requirements to become a paralegal. There are two ways that this can be done:

A student can go to college and major in any discipline, then after graduation, earn a post-bachelor’s paralegal certificate from an American Bar Examination approved program. The other option is to identify a college that offers an ABA approved paralegal program and get a bachelor’s degree in paralegal study.

Immigration Specialization

There are several ways that paralegals can pursue an immigration specialization. If a person knows that they are interested in specializing in immigration, they should pursue an internship or employment during their final semester of their studies in an immigration law firm.

Working in a law firm that specializes in immigration gives a paralegal invaluable knowledge of issues related to immigration law through on the job training. Working in this setting will develop necessary skills such as creating petitions for citizenship, drafting immigration related correspondence, dealing with foreign documentation, preparing legal arguments, effectively assisting attorneys during immigration hearings and organizing and filing case documents.

Once paralegal studies are completed, obtaining certification as a legal assistant is necessary. In order to do this, a person must take an exam administered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). This type of certification is not required in all states, but having it makes someone a more competitive and marketable candidate for employment.

Is it a Must?

Getting specialized certification as an immigration paralegal beyond general paralegal course work is highly recommended. Some colleges and universities, such as the University of Miami Division of Continuing and International Education and the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education, offer certification programs online. There are also organizations that offer intensive online courses for immigration paralegals. Specialized certification programs cover a wide variety of immigration related topics such as, asylum, visa processing, different types of visas, , immigration law, refugees, immigration related vocabulary, green cards and United States citizenship.

Time Management – Work Smart, Not Hard!

April 29th, 2013

Time management is the art of combining different skills and techniques to increase work output and utilize time effectively. These skills are important for paralegals who need to do many different things each day. The legal team relies on paralegals to perform clerical tasks that can be time and energy consuming.

There are a few factors that can hinder a paralegal from accomplishing desired goals. This results to low quality output at work and burn-outs. Some tend to procrastinate because of improper time management. However, paralegals can make smarter decisions, achieve goals on time and minimize burn-out if they are able to manage their time effectively. Here are some techniques that can help paralegals eliminate these hindrances to let them work faster and smarter.

Set goals

Paralegals work in a setting where they are expected to perform different jobs from legal research to documentation. The first thing that they should keep in mind is a clear set of goals. This should be done first thing in the morning, the night before or prior to any activities. A set of goals for the day is essential to stay on the desired path and not divert to unnecessary activities. Finishing a task such as a report requires proper goal-setting and implementation.

Paralegals should also have a goal before making or answering a phone call or replying to emails. It is helpful to think about the situation first and decide on what the expected result from that action should be. A few minutes should be allotted for each action. This will help eliminate unnecessary conversations that can lead to waste of time and effort. Setting goals before conversations will ensure that all important topics are covered and none are missed.

Paralegals can set goals for an hour, a day, a week or even a year depending on the desired outcome. These can include short-term and long-term goals. However, short-term goals are more helpful in an office setting. Goals like finishing a report or researching a subject are usual everyday things in a legal office. Setting goals will result in time-efficiency and better work output.

Keep a Schedule

It is best to have a schedule or an organizer handy. After deciding on goals and outcomes desired, the paralegal should then keep this information in an organizer. Proper scheduling is important so paralegals will identify the activities for the day. A calendar along with the organizer is also helpful. This is good for reminding paralegals of deadlines and important events. The calendar should be constantly updated to avoid confusion.

The goals and activities for the day, week or month can be written in a checklist. Personal goals and plans should be separated from those at work. A harmonious balance between work and personal time will help a person work better and smarter. It is best not to let personal time intervene with work time. A paralegal should know how to prioritize activities to stay focused on what should be achieved.

Office Telephone

The office telephone is one of the things that can stop paralegals from working effectively. A ringing telephone can easily disturb an individual who is trying to finish a report or do any other task. It is important for paralegals to distinguish important phone calls from the unwanted ones. This lets them utilize time and effort efficiently.

Paralegals should allocate a specific time of the day for answering phone calls or checking voicemails. They can set all incoming calls to go to voicemail while at work. Screening calls is also helpful so only important calls from known callers go through and the rest go to voicemail. This will eliminate spending time answering each phone call and having unwanted conversations.

However, paralegals should return a phone call as soon as possible. This is important so callers won’t feel unimportant or rejected. After listening to the messages on the voicemail at a scheduled time, they can decide on the goals and important topics that need to be discussed and return the calls. Paralegals must remember not to engage in unnecessary conversations over the phone so as not to waste time.

Emails and Faxes

Emails can also waste a paralegal’s time and effort. Notifications that pop up while online to show new emails disturb people when working. Paralegals don’t have enough time to open and reply to each email all day.

One technique that can help paralegals is to screen emails. This will automatically separate important emails from the less significant ones. They can also leave important emails and keep them in the unread list. This is a good reminder to open the email and reply to it at a scheduled time. This will eliminate the hassle of reading each email and replying while working on a task. However, it is also important not to make the sender feel neglected. The paralegal can send out email replies stating that the message was received and the appropriate party will get back to them with the information as soon as possible. A calendar on computer software can also help in determining when to reply to emails. The software automatically sorts emails and sends notifications about events and tasks.

The same should be done with faxes. Paralegals should set aside all documents that need to be faxed and allocate a particular time for them. This will minimize time and effort spent on trips to the fax machine.

Stay Organized

Staying organized is a major aspect of good time management. Keeping the schedule, goals and workplace organized will result in a healthy work environment. Since a paralegal’s work is diverse and always on the clock, it is important to eliminate any clutter.

The first priority is to have an organized work environment. The desk should be free from clutter and unwanted files or objects. Anything that is used frequently should be close and visible. The person should identify where each objet goes and try not to mix them up. Significant items like mobile phones, keys, wallets or bags should be kept in a secure place. This minimizes the time spent searching for objects.

The paralegal should also have a clean space for all files and documents. These can be arranged alphabetically or in any way that is easier for the person. The inbox should also have emails properly organized. Properly marking emails that are already read or replied to is a helpful technique. The same thing goes for files on the computer. These should be separated and arranged in a particular order such as by client or date.

Task Delegation

Most paralegals prefer to work on different tasks on their own. It is natural for people to have the need to control their own work space and environment. However, not everyone can finish all work responsibilities in a day. No person can effectively do two tasks at a time. Even if the task is finished, the quality of work will not be good. This is why it is best to properly delegate tasks in the work place. Some tasks can be given to other paralegals since they usually work in teams.

Some paralegals also have assistants assigned to them. Entry-level responsibilities can be given to assistants to maximize time and effort. Paralegals can dictate their correspondence, pleadings and memorandums to their assistants. Assistants can help in minor jobs that can take up most of the paralegal’s time.

It is also best to identify tasks that can be finished alone or with other people’s help. Receiving assigned work from different attorneys at the same time will result in low quality output and even missed deadlines. Paralegals should know how to allocate tasks to ensure that all deadlines are met and tasks are done effectively.

Proper Communication

Proper communication is the key to creating a good work environment with colleagues. Paralegals can politely inform officemates that there is a task to be finished whenever they are being disturbed. Tasks can’t be finished if the paralegal spends too much time on unwanted conversations over the phone or with colleagues.

Another benefit from good communication is proper work delegation. Not all assigned tasks from attorneys can be realistically finished in the time-frame given. This is the best time to be proactive and talk about realistic approaches to the task. All paralegals also have their own limitations. It is best to identify these limitations and properly communicate them to colleagues.