Almost 7,000 people work as paralegals in New Jersey according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2011 survey. Many more paralegals work in surrounding states, particularly New York.
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 PCCE 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.
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. This association offers four levels of membership:
- Regular Membership – Open to employed paralegals who meet one of the following conditions:
- Passage of NALA’s Certified Legal Assistant (CLA)/Certified Paralegal (CP) exam
- Graduation from an ABA-approved paralegal program
- Graduation from an institutionally-accredited paralegal program that is at least 60 semester credits and includes 15 credits in substantive legal courses
- Graduation from a paralegal program that is in substantial compliance with ABA guidelines, 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 plus six months of in-house paralegal training
- Two years of in-house paralegal training
- Student Membership – Open to students enrolled in a paralegal education program
- Sustaining Membership – Open to all firms, corporations, and individuals interesting in supporting the
The South New Jersey Paralegal Association (SJPA), an affiliate of the NFPA. 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.
The SJPA sponsors the New Jersey Certified Paralegal (NJCP) credential. To qualify for this you must be an voting member of the SJPA and meet one of the following:
- Bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies from an accredited school and one year of substantive paralegal experience
- Bachelor’s degree in any subject from an accredited school, a paralegal certificate from an ABA-approved program, and one year of paralegal experience
- Bachelor’s degree in any subject and three years of paralegal experience
- Associate’s degree in paralegal studies and two years of paralegal experience
- Certificate from an ABA-approved paralegal program plus three years of paralegal experience
- Two years of paralegal experience plus one of the following:
- Registered Paralegal (RP) credential from the NFPA
- The National Association of Legal Assistants’ (NALA’s) Certified Paralegal (CP)/Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) credential
- Any other national credential approved by the SJPA
In addition to the NJCP credential the SJPA also offers four levels of membership:
- Voting – Open to employed paralegals who meet one of the following:
- Bachelor’s or associate’s degree in paralegal studies
- Bachelor’s or associate’s degree in any field plus a paralegal certificate
- Paralegal certificate from an ABA-approved or AAfPE-member program
- Paralegal certificate from a non-correspondence program plus two years of paralegal experience
- Three years of paralegal experience
- Associate – Open to individuals who meet one of the following:
- Employed as a paralegal but not meeting the conditions for Voting membership
- Paralegal program graduate but not employed
- Previously employed as a paralegal but currently not working in the field
- Membership in good standing with another NFPA organization
- Employed as a paralegal coordinator, educator, or administrator
- Student – Open to anyone enrolled in a non-correspondence paralegal program
- Sustaining – Open to any person or entity that supports the goals of the SJPA
New Jersey has many large law firms that employ paralegals. Some of largest law firms in New Jersey include:
- McCarter and English, LLP
- Lowenstein Sandler PC
- MacElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP
- Day Pitney LLP
- Sills Cummis Epstein & Gross P.C.
- Riker Danzig Scherer Hyland & Perretti LLP
- Fox Rothschild
- Archer & Greiner PC
- Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer P.A.
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