From your first day on the job, one thing is going to become very clear to you as a new paralegal: despite all the hours you spent in class earning your degree, your education is really just starting.
Changes in the law, in society, in types of practice, and in the technology that is constantly infiltrating the field makes paralegal work a role that is constantly evolving. Looking for training to help keep you up to speed is all but mandatory to stay at the top of your game.
Continuing education (or continuing legal education, CLE, as it’s sometimes called in legal circles) is not a requirement for paralegals in most states. With no firmly established credentialing requirements or qualifications needed to call yourself a paralegal in most states, few answer to a regulatory body that requires anything in the way of additional education.
But don’t let that overshadow the value of continuing your education, or the prevalence of opportunities out there for helping you get the job done.
If you practice in Texas or California, or any other state with registration or bar membership options for paralegals, you do have certain mandatory obligations to obtain CLE. In California, you’ll have to complete four hours of continuing education in legal ethics and four hours in general or specialized law every two years. The Texas State Bar places even more emphasis on continuing ed, requiring six hours of CLE each year for members. In a sense, these states make the whole process easier by laying out the requirements in black and white.
Whether you’re getting your education to meet state bar requirements or going it on your own, the options available online are going to make it a lot easier to fit it in to your schedule and your budget.
Online Training and Education Is Becoming A Major Source of CLE
The convenience and low cost of online classes and webinars is driving them to the top of the list for paralegals who are looking to fulfill their CLE requirements without a lot of hassle or investment.
Whether you currently have a paralegal certification or license or are simply working as a paralegal without formal training, it’s time to sit up and pay attention to continuing education.
NALS, NALA, and the NFPA
NALS, NALA, and the NFPA all offer their own online webinar programs that, naturally, count for CLE toward renewing their respective certifications. Members of the organization (which you will be if you have their certificate) are offered discounts on attendance.
The ABA and State and Local Bar Associations
In some cases, you can even get valid CLE completely free. The American Bar Association offers members up to 18 hours of free online continuing education credits, both through live presentations and webinar recordings.
State and local bar associations also commonly organize or offer CLE programs for members.
Some legal support vendors also offer training courses that can be counted as CLE. LexisNexis, for instance, has set up a program they call LexisNexis University which offers courses that give you both practical training on the companies service offerings (which you can use anyway) and CLE credits. The company also offers classes on other topics of interest to paralegals that don’t necessarily directly involve its services, such as data management and compliance.
Other Independent Providers
Predictably, a cottage industry has sprung up around legal training and continuing education. Since lawyers are required to obtain CLE as well, and are widely understood to have the money to pay for it, various companies have been springing up to provide training in each state. Many of the programs these companies offer count toward paralegal CLE as well. In fact, since state bars set stricter standards for counting minimum continuing legal education (MCLE), these courses may be longer and more rigorous than others.
For California paralegals, this standard becomes more important, since the state licensing requirement means that all CLE counted toward your license renewal has to be from an approved provider. You can find a searchable list on the bar website.
Quick Reference Guide to CLE Requirements for Maintaining National Certification
The three nationally recognized certifying bodies in the field each have certain CLE requirements associated with renewing their certifications.
- The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- CORE Registered Paralegal (CRP) – 8 hours of CLE every 2 years, with 1 hour in legal ethics
- Registered Paralegal (RP) – 12 hours of CLE every 2 years, with 1 hour in legal ethics
- The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- Certified Paralegal (CP) – 50 hours of CLE every 5 years, with 5 hours in legal ethics
- Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) – Same as CP
- The Association for Legal Professionals (NALS)
- Professional Paralegal (PP) – 75 hours of CLE (50 hours substantive) every 5 years, with 5 hours in legal ethics
- Specialty Certification (SC) – Earned partly through completing PP CLE hours
Other specialized paralegal associations that offer certification, such as the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants, have their own CLE requirements.
Every organization has their own take on what is and is not considered a valid source of CLE credits. In general, you can expect most professionally organized activities in the following categories to be eligible for CLE awards:
- Seminars or webinars
- Presenting at a conference, or teaching a seminar or webinar
- Completing a course at an accredited college
- Achieving advanced paralegal certification through the same body
The standards for counting these activities as CLE tend to be generous. NALS, for instance, only requires that a seminar be longer than 30 minutes in order to count, and includes online educational chats in the category.