Becoming a Paralegal in Florida - FL

paralegal floridaWith nearly 20,000 paralegals, Florida ranks third in the nation for the highest employment level of paralegals according to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s 2010 report. The Fort Lauderdale, Tallahassee, Miami and West Palm Beach metropolitan areas each rank as one of the nation’s top ten metropolitan areas with the highest concentration of paralegals.

The Florida Legislature has revisited the matter of regulating paralegals several times in recent years. Currently, in order to call oneself a paralegal, a person must meet the Florida Bar Association’s definition of a paralegal:

A paralegal is a person with education, training, or work experience who works under the direction and supervision of a member of The Florida Bar and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a member of The Florida Bar is responsible.

Paralegals may not provide legal advice, must be directly supervised by an attorney, and an attorney must assume legal responsibility for the professional actions of any paralegal employees.

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While the State Legislature has not yet required certification or registration of paralegals, professional paralegals and the Florida Bar Association have responded to the potential of regulation by offering voluntary certification and registration for paralegals. Currently there are three options: Certified Paralegal (CP), Florida Certified Paralegal (FCP) and Florida Registered Paralegal (FRP).

Paralegal Education, Certification and Registration

Although there are no legal requirements for the education of paralegals in Florida, the Florida Association of Paralegals reports that most law firms will only hire paralegals with a degree. Additionally, many want their new-hires to have passed the Certified Paralegal (CP) exam.

Florida Job Statistics

  • 2011 mean income for paralegals in Florida: $47,611
  • Number of paralegals employed in Florida: 21,330
  • November of 2007, Supreme Court of Florida adopted the Florida Registered Paralegal Program
  • Number of registered paralegals in Florida: 3,844

Paralegals may choose from several different educational pathways: certificate programs, associate’s degrees in paralegal studies, and bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies. There are also a few schools offering master’s level paralegal degrees. Each type of educational program has different entry requirements and these requirements also vary from school to school. Additionally some schools offer American Bar Association (ABA) approved programs, which may be important to employers and for the national certifying exam requirements. Not all programs are offered by accredited institutions so it is important to research that as well.

Certificate programs offer a certificate of paralegal studies to those who complete their coursework. Certificate programs may target students who have previously completed a bachelor’s degree in another field and wish to supplement their degree with a focus in paralegal studies. Other certificate programs do not require a degree as a prerequisite and issue a stand-alone certificate. In Florida, only post-baccalaureate certificate programs are recognized by the FRP program. Some certificate programs in paralegal studies which don’t require a degree may meet the requirements for the CP and FCP.

Certified Paralegals (CP)

National certification, including the CP that many paralegals in Florida hold, is offered by the three national paralegal associations. The exams require education, training or a combination of both. Information about the exams, eligibility requirements, and recertification is available here.

Currently there are four national exams from which to select. In Florida the CLA/CP is the exam that most paralegals choose to take because it is a prerequisite of becoming an FCP or FRP.

Florida Certified Paralegals (FCP)

The Paralegal Association of Florida (PAF) offers the Florida Certified Paralegal (FCP) exam. To qualify to sit for this exam, paralegals must already be NALA-certified CPs and must promise to uphold high ethical and professional standards. The FCP designation helps paralegals distinguish themselves as experts in Florida state law.

Florida Registered Paralegals (FRP)

The Florida State Bar, acting under Florida Supreme Court Rule 20, offers voluntary registration of paralegals who meet eligibility criteria. In order to register as an FRP, a paralegal must meet education and experience requirements or must hold national certification from NALA or the NFPA. Paralegals can earn all three (CP, FCP and RFP) credentials if they so desire.

Professional Paralegal Associations

The Paralegal Association of Florida (PAF), an affiliate of NALA, is the only paralegal association that encompasses the entire state. It works to support and advocate for paralegals on the state level, especially by offering voluntary certification opportunities such as the NALA CLA/CP exam and the Florida Certified Paralegal exam. It also provides educational opportunities to aspiring and professional paralegals, including continuing legal education.

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PAF has 12 local chapters and sponsors its own paralegal credential and its local chapters have five classes of memberships:

  • Active Member – You can qualify for this through one of the following routes:
    • Have Certified Paralegal (CP)/Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) certification through NALA
    • Graduate from a paralegal study program that is currently approved by the ABA
    • Graduate from an institutionally-accredited paralegal program that includes at least 60 semester credits
    • Graduate from a paralegal program and have at least six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Have a bachelor’s degree in any field plus at least six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Have at least three years of law-related experience that includes at least six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Have two years of in-house paralegal training
  • Associate Member – You can qualify for this via one of the following:
    • Be a Florida attorney
    • Be an educator in Florida
    • Be at least 55 years old and have been previously qualified for membership based on your occupation
    • Be a non-resident of Florida who would otherwise qualify for membership
    • Be a graduate of a paralegal program who has not yet gained six months of work experience
  • Sustaining Member – Open to the following types of entities that support the PAF:
    • Law firm
    • Title company
    • Banking company
    • Other type of company providing services to the PAF or law offices
    • Other law-related entity
  • Student Member – You can qualify for this through either of the following routes:
    • Complete at least six semesters of law-related courses
    • Complete at least three semesters of law-related courses and be employed full-time in a law-related field
  • Emeritus Member – These are retired paralegals who were formerly Active Members

PAF and its local chapters coordinate and offer these paralegal certifications:

  • The PAF’s Florida Certified Paralegal (FCP) credential
  • NALA’s Certified Paralegal (CP)/Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) credential

To earn the PAF’s Florida Certified Paralegal (FCP) credential you must already be a CP/CLA and pass an exam administered by the PAF.

The 12 PAF local chapters throughout the state are:

  • At Large Chapter
  • Big Bend Chapter
  • Boca Raton Chapter
  • Brevard Chapter
  • Broward Chapter
  • First Coast Chapter
  • Hillsborough Chapter
  • Palm Beach Chapter
  • Pinellas Chapter
  • Southwest Chapter
  • Suncoast Chapter
  • Treasure Coast Chapter

Each of these regional groups offers monthly meetings, networking, and community service opportunities. Many members also serve as Technical Advisory Committee members at their local colleges.

Regional associations meet throughout Florida. These include: the Central Florida Paralegal Association, Inc.; the Gainesville Association of Paralegals; the Northeast Florida Paralegal Association, Inc; the Northwest Florida Paralegal Association; the South Florida Paralegal Association; the Tampa Bay Paralegal Association, the Gulf Coast Paralegal Association; the Southwest Florida Paralegal Association, Inc. and the Volusia Association of Paralegals.

Four of the most popular are listed below along with memership levels and qualifications:

Tampa Bay Paralegal Association (TBPA) – An affiliate of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the TBPA offers five membership levels:

  • Active – To be eligible for this level you must be employed as a paralegal in Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas or Polk counties and meet one of the following:
    • Pass the NFPA’s PACE Exam or earn any of NALA’s certifications
    • Graduate from an ABA-approved paralegal program
    • Graduate from an institutionally-accredited paralegal program that includes at least 60 semester credits
    • Graduate from a paralegal program and have at least six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Have a bachelor’s degree in any field and at least six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Have at least three years of law-related experience under the supervision of an attorney, including at least six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Have at least two years of in-house paralegal training
  • Associate – To qualify for this membership level you must meet one of the following:
    • Be a member of the bar association and endorse the paralegal concept
    • Be a member of the educational field and endorse the paralegal concept
    • Be involved in the supervision of paralegals
    • Meet the qualifications for Active membership except the county-location-of-employment requirement
    • Paralegals without full-time employment who have completed a paralegal program
  • Emeritus – Open to retired paralegals
  • Student – Be enrolled in a paralegal studies program that meets TBPA standards
  • Sustaining – Available to law firms and other businesses that endorse the paralegal concept

South Florida Paralegal Association (SFPA) – An affiliate of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the SFPA offers five membership levels:

  • Active – To be eligible for this level you must meet one of the following:
    • Graduate from an ABA-approved paralegal program that results in an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or 45-credit-minimum certificate
    • Have CP or CLA certification from NALA or RP certification from the NFPA
    • Have a bachelor’s degree in any field plus three years of paralegal experience
    • Have five years of work experience as a paralegal
    • Provisional Members who have maintained a current membership with the SFPA for at least one year, and who have at least three years of paralegal work experience
    • Anyone registered as a Florida Registered Paralegal with the Florida Bar
  • Associate – Open to any bar association members or those working in the educational field
  • Provisional – Open to those who have completed an SFPA-approved non-accredited paralegal training program comprised of at least 30 credits
  • Student – Open to those enrolled in a school’s paralegal training program
  • Sustaining – Open to organizations that support the principles of the SFPA

Southwest Florida Paralegal Association (SWFPA) (not affiliated with the Southwest Chapter of the PAF) – An affiliate of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), SWFPA offers four membership classes:

  • Student – Open to any student enrolled in a school’s paralegal program, who has not passed NALA’s Certified Legal Assistant (CLA)/Certified Paralegal (CP) exam
  • Associate – Open to anyone who meets one of these requirements:
    • Is a member of a bar association that endorses the paralegal concept
    • Is employed in the education field and endorses the paralegal concept
    • Is involved in the direct supervision of paralegals
  • Sustaining – Open to any person, corporation, law firm, or paralegal program representative who endorses the paralegal concept
  • Active – Open to anyone who meets on of the following:
    • Graduate of an institutionally-accredited paralegal program that includes 60 semester credits
    • Graduate of an ABA-approved paralegal program
    • Graduate of a paralegal program plus six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Bachelor’s degree in any field plus six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Three years of law-related experience that includes six months of in-house paralegal training
    • Two years of in-house paralegal training
    • The Florida Bar Association’s Florida Registered Paralegal (FRP) credential
    • Has passed NALA’s CLA/CP Exam

Central Florida Paralegal Association (CFPA) – An affiliate of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the CFPA offers four types of memberships:

  • Student Member – Open to any full or part-time student in good standing who is majoring in law-related studies and who is not currently employed as a paralegal
  • Associate Member – Open to anyone with law-related experience
  • Patron Member – Open to anyone who is a member of a bar association, any educator who endorses the paralegal concept, or any other entity that supports the legal profession and advocates the paralegal concept
  • Active Member – To qualify for this you must meet one of the following:
    • Be a Florida Registered Paralegal (FRP) with the Florida Bar
    • Graduate from an ABA-approved paralegal program and have at least 960 hours of paralegal work experience within the past two years
    • Graduate from an institutionally-accredited paralegal program and have at least 960 hours of paralegal work experience within the past two years
    • Graduate from a paralegal program and have at least six months of in-house paralegal training, plus at least 960 hours of paralegal work experience within the past two years
    • Have a bachelor’s degree in any field, have at least six months of in-house paralegal training, and have at least 960 hours of paralegal work experience within the past two years
    • Have at least three years of law-related experience under the supervision of an attorney that includes at least six months of in-house paralegal training, and at least 960 hours of paralegal work experience within the past two years
    • Have at least two years of in-house paralegal training and at least 960 hours of paralegal work experience within the past two years
    • Pass NALA’s CLA/CP Exam or the NFPA’s PACE Exam

Law Firms

Law firms employ larger numbers of paralegals than any other type of business. Some of Florida’s largest law firms include:

  • Akerman Senterfitt
  • Greenberg Traurig
  • Holland & Knight
  • Adorno and Yoss
  • Shutts and Bowen
  • Broad and Cassel
  • Cole Scott Kissane
  • Gunster
  • Fowler White Boggs
  • GrayRobinson
  • Carlton Fields
  • Foley & Lardner
  • Wicker Smith O’Hara
  • Conroy Simberg
  • Stearns Weaver
  • Becker & Poliakoff
  • Morgan & Morgan
  • Fowler White Burnett
  • Shumaker Loop
  • Butler Pappas

 

Important Contacts for Paralegals

 

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