Nearly 8,000 people work as paralegals in New Jersey according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2016 survey. Paralegals in Trenton earn the tenth highest average salary of those in any metropolitan area in the country.
As in other states, New Jersey’s Rule 5.3 defines paralegals as paraprofessionals who may be employed to assist lawyers with legal work. Under this rule, lawyers are obligated to directly supervise paralegals, offer them guidance in confidentiality and ethics proptocols, and accept responsibility for their professional conduct.
New Jersey does not regulate its paralegals with respect to training and education. In 1999, the New Jersey Supreme Court encouraged New Jersey’s professional paralegal associations to develop voluntary certification processes in order to “provide a means of recognizing qualified paralegals.” To this end, the South New Jersey Paralegal Association created the New Jersey Certified Paralegal (NJCP) credential.
To qualify for the NJCP credential, paralegals must meet a combination of education and work experience requirements. The educational qualifications include American Bar Association (ABA) approved programs, associate and bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies, and national certification. There are provisions in place through July 1, 2012, which allow for the grandfathering-in of paralegals who either who not have paralegal education or whose programs do not meet ABA standards.
Is There Paralegal Certification in New Jersey?
As professional certification is voluntary in New Jersey, paralegals may choose to enter the profession through on-the-job training or education. However, with an increased focus among employers on hiring qualified candidates and a competitive job market, increasing number of paralegals are choosing coursework in paralegal studies. Not all programs meet ABA standards, so paralegals who desire to become NJCPs should research their program choices thoroughly.
New Jersey Job Statistics
Certificate programs in paralegal studies offer a direct entry into the paralegal profession without many general education courses. Instead, certificate programs provide a focused education in paralegal studies. Graduates of such programs are called certificated paralegals. Certificated paralegals may become NJCPs if the program is ABA approved and if they also work for three years doing substantive legal work.
Post-baccalaureate certificate programs are available for those who have earned a bachelor’s degree in any field and wish to complement that degree with specialized work in paralegal studies. The NJCP credential recognizes post-baccalaureate certificate programs that are ABA approved.
Aspiring paralegals can also choose to earn degrees in paralegal studies. Associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees combine in depth paralegal courses with general education requirements. As long as the educational institution is accredited, both types of degrees will prepare paralegals to become NJCPs in conjunction with work experience.
One way of becoming an NJCP is through national certification. Those who meet educational or work experience requirements are eligible to take one of the four exams currently offered by the national professional paralegal associations. Successful completion of the exam results in a paralegal becoming a certified paralegal. The four exams are:
- 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)
Each national professional association has different eligibility requirements for its certification exam. A comparison can be found here.
Paralegals that live or work in New Jersey may choose to join one of its two professional paralegal organizations: The Paralegal Association of New Jersey (PANJ), which is affiliated with NALA, or the South New Jersey Paralegal Association (SJPA), an affiliate of the NFPA.
The PANJ provides educational and social meetings, a job bank and support for members who are working towards certification through NALA’s CLA/CP exam. One of PANJ’s main goals is to be a voice for paralegals throughout the state, especially in dialog with the New Jersey State Bar and other decision-makers whose choices can have large impacts on paralegals.
The SJPA works to increase opportunities for paralegals by raising paralegals’ level of competence and professionalism. In addition to creating the New Jersey Certified Paralegal credential, the SJPA offers regular educational meetings, continuing legal education (CLE), a mentoring program, scholarships and a lending library. The SJPA is active in the larger legal community, representing the interests of paralegals through the New Jersey State Bar Association Committee on Paralegals and by monitoring legislation that could impact paralegals.
New Jersey has many large law firms that employ paralegals. Some of largest law firms in New Jersey include:
Important Contacts for Paralegals
- The Paralegal Association of New Jersey (PANJ), affiliated with NALA
- South New Jersey Paralegal Association (SJPA), affiliated with the NFPA
- South New Jersey Certified Paralegal Plan
- New Jersey State Bar Association
- New Jersey State Bar Association – Committee on Paralegals
- New Jersey Department of State
- New Jersey Courts