Over 5000 paralegals were employed in Washington, D.C., in 2016, giving it the highest concentration of paralegals in the country according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition, the District’s paralegals earned the highest wage of all of the states in the country. Governmental institutions and law firms retained the majority of paralegals living in this area.
The District of Columbia’s Rule 5.3 does not formally define paralegals, but sets forth standards applying to all legal paraprofessionals, including paralegals. Under this rule, lawyer must provide direct supervision to all of the paraprofessionals that they employ, and also assume responsibility for those employees’ professional conduct.
Because there are no formal requirements for the training of paralegals in the District of Columbia, aspiring paralegals may being their careers by either finding employment that provides on-the-job training or by completing an educational program. However, in a competitive job market, increasing numbers of paralegals are choosing to earn certificates, degrees or national certification in order to stand apart from other job candidates.
Is There Paralegal Certification in Washington, D.C.?
Sometimes employers use the terms “certified” and “certificated” paralegals interchangeably. However, these terms describe two different categories of paralegals. It is important to understand the difference and to clarify with employers which level of training they desire in their future employee.
Washington, DC Job Statistics
Certificated paralegals have earned an educational certificate by completing coursework in paralegal studies. Post-baccalaureate certificate programs have been developed for people who already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject and wish to supplement that with focused coursework in paralegal studies. These students do not earn a second degree, and instead receive a certificate of completion for this additional coursework. Stand-alone certificate programs do not require a degree as a prerequisite.
Graduates from those programs will earn a certificate in paralegal studies but not a degree. The American Bar Association (ABA) recognizes some but not all certificate programs. Certificate programs may also be offered by accredited and non-accredited institutions.
Certified paralegals are experienced paralegals who have demonstrated their mastery of the profession by passing one of the national exams offered by the three national paralegal associations. Certification is voluntary and requires that the paralegals continue to grow and develop their profession by earning continuing legal education credits and recertifying on a regular basis. There are four exams from which to choose:
- The PACE offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The PCC also offered by National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The CLA/CP offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- The PP offered by the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS)
Requirements for the national exams differ between the three national paralegal organizations. A comparison can be found here.
The National Capitol Area Paralegal Association (NCAPA) provides advocacy, resources and support to paralegals who live or work in Washington, D.C., southern Maryland and northern Virginia. NCAPA is affiliated with both the NFPA and a network of paralegals in Virginia, the Virginia Alliance of Paralegal Associations (VAPA).
Since 1974, NCAPA has worked to promote the development of the paralegal profession, including representing paralegals in the national and local conversations about regulating the profession. Simultaneously, the NCAPA has worked to raise the professionalism of paralegals by sponsoring continuing legal education opportunities, “hot topic” discussions and by encouraging its members to become certified paralegals through the NFPA’s PACE/RP exam. Its membership includes students, practicing paralegals, and others from the legal community.
The District of Columbia is home to many large, multi-national law firms that employ paralegals. Washington, D.C.’s largest law firms include: