Paralegal Certification in California

paralegal californiaWith over 27,000 paralegals, California boasts the largest number of working paralegals in the nation according to the Bureau of Legal Statistics’ 2010 report.  California paralegals are concentrated throughout the state’s urban areas, including the Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Francisco regions. Additionally, the average paralegal salary in California is the fifth highest in the nation.Paralegals in California work in a variety of industries including software publishing, natural resource management and development, and educational support services in addition to the more common legal services and government employment.

Like Arizona, California regulates “legal document assistants” (LDAs) who prepare court documents for and offer legal information (but not advice) to people choosing to act as their own counsel in legal matters. LDAs are required to register with the State of California.

Prior to 2001, some LDAs used the term “paralegal” to describe their work even though they were not trained as paralegals nor were they supervised by a lawyer. Therefore, in 2001, California State Legislature defined the paralegal profession and set minimum qualifications for people wishing to work as paralegals. Those qualifications are:

  • Completion of a paralegal certificate program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA)
  • Completion of 24 semester units of paralegal education at a state-approved or accredited institution
  • Completion of a bachelor’s degree in any field combined with one year of law-related experience under the supervision of a three-year California-licensed lawyer or a lawyer working in California’s federal courts
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The California Business and Professions Code (CBPC 6450-6) can be found here.

Paralegal Education

Because of the legislative requirements, aspiring paralegals planning to work in California must be selective about the program that they choose to attend. Certificate programs, which offer a certificate of completion for a paralegal studies program but not a degree, must be ABA approved. These can be useful for people who need to enter the workforce quickly or who have a degree in another field but wish to specialize in paralegal studies.

California Job Statistics

  • 2011 average income for paralegals in California: $59,800
  • 94% of employers provide medical insurance to full-time paralegals in California
  • 62% of employers pay complete cost of medical insurance for full-time paralegals in California
  • 82% of employers provide dental insurance to full-time paralegals in California
  • 76% of employers provide a retirement plan to full-time paralegals in California

Institutions that award associate’s or bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies must be accredited or approved by the state. Several universities in California also offer master’s degrees in paralegal studies for candidates who wish to distinguish themselves from other job candidates or specialize within the legal field.

Is There Paralegal Certification in California?

In addition to earning a degree or certificate in paralegal studies, paralegals may choose national certification, which is awarded by the national professional paralegal associations. Certification recognizes those paralegals that have mastered the national requirement of legal information and thus highly competent in their field.

Certified paralegals have passed a national exam and have been issued certification by a national paralegal association.

In California, paralegals who pass NALA’s Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) and California Advanced Specialty (CAS) examinations may call themselves California Advanced Specialists, which can increase their employment options. Paralegals may voluntarily choose to become California Advanced Specialists.

Currently there are four national exams from which to select for certification, although only NALA offers the California Advanced Specialty exam:

An informational chart comparing national certification exams, eligibility for testing, fees, and recertification is available here.

Professional Paralegal Associations

Because of the size of the state and the density of paralegals working within it, California offers many choices of professional organizations, both statewide and regional.

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The California Alliance of Paralegal Associations (CAPA) offers advocacy and education on a statewide level as well as support for its regional affiliates. Since 1977, it has worked toward unifying the profession across the state and supporting the increased use of paralegals throughout the legal and business community. CAPA is a NALA affiliate, as are its regional associates. It also works to disseminate information matters of concern to paralegals at the federal, state and local level. CAPA offers an annual educational conference each June.

CAPA affiliates include: the Central Coast Paralegal Association, the Los Angeles Paralegal Association, the Fresno Paralegal Association, the Kern County Paralegal Association, the Paralegal Association of Santa Clara County, the Redwood Empire Association of Paralegals, the Sacramento Valley Paralegal Association, the San Diego Paralegal Association, the San Francisco Paralegal Association, the Santa Barbara Paralegal Association, the Sequoia Paralegal Association, the Orange County Paralegal Association, the Inland Counties Association of Paralegals, and the Ventura County Paralegal Association.

Working alongside CAPA and its affiliates, the Commission for Advanced California Paralegal Specialization, Inc. focuses on paralegals that are preparing for or have passed the California Advanced Specialty exam. They work to increase the role of paralegals in California’s legal community and to support paralegals who wish to attain advanced standing in that community. They also offer the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education credits that are required by CBPC 6450.

California Association of Legal Document Assistants (CALDA) – If you provide or assist in providing services to someone who is representing him or herself in a legal matter then you must register with this association as a Legal Document Assistant (LDA). This applies if you independently offer your services for compensation in a manner that goes beyond what a secretary or receptionist would do. If you are employed by a member of the State Bar of California, such as an attorney, then you are exempt from this.

To be eligible to register as an LDA you must meet one of the following education requirements:

  • A high school diploma or GED, and either two years of law-related experience under the supervision of a licensed attorney, or prior to 1999 two years of experience providing self-help services
  • A bachelor’s degree in any field, and either one year of law-related experience under the supervision of a licensed attorney, or prior to 1999 one year of experience providing self-help services
  • A paralegal certificate from an ABA-approved program
  • A paralegal certificate from an institutionally accredited program with at least 24 semester credits in legal specialization courses

Law Firms

Law firms are the largest employers of paralegals. Generally, law firms are concentrated in urban areas. With California’s high population density, law firms are abundant throughout the state in medium to large metro-areas. Some of the larger law firms include:

  • Latham & Watkins
  • Townsend and Townsend and Crew
  • Morrison & Foerster
  • Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold
  • Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe
  • Gordon & Rees
  • Littler, Mendelson, Fastiff, Tichy & Mathiason
  • Best Best & Krieger
  • Cooley Godward Castro Huddleson & Tatum
  • Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati
  • Allen, Matkins, Leck, Gamble & Mallory
  • Buchalter, Nemer, Fields & Younger
  • Munger, Tolles & Olson
  • Manatt, Phelps & Phillips
  • O’Melveny & Myers
  • Irell & Manella
  • Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton
  • Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
  • Lewis, D’Amato, Brisbois & Bisgaard

Important Contacts for Paralegals

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