The paralegal profession is bound by a core set of philosophies, standards and principles, all of which are enforced and supported by a number of strong professional organizations and associations, each with a unique role to play.
Although the paralegal profession is largely unregulated through government, a number of industry organizations are there to take up the slack and ensure the core tenets of the profession are never compromised.
At the same time, these organizations provide paralegals with an opportunity to contribute to the profession, continue to learn, and achieve long term professional goals: From professional membership associations that provide continuing education and trade publications… to agencies that host conferences and events that support advancement and professional certification… to national organizations that help set and maintain standards for education and competency.
While some paralegal associations are best known for their professional certification opportunities, others focus more on providing professional networking and career resources for both aspiring and practicing paralegals. In all cases, these organizations provide professional advocacy, promote high professional standards, and together help form the self-regulatory system that ensures the integrity of the paralegal profession.
National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), founded in 1974, was the nation’s first paralegal association. The NFPA’s 9,000+ members drive this policy-focused professional association.
The NFPA maintains strategic alliances with the American Bar Association (ABA), the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE), and others. They often work together to support unity in the profession and a common set of education standards.
NFPA offers professional certification at the basic and advanced levels:
- CORE Registered Paralegal
- Registered Paralegal (RP)
NFPA also offers specialty certification through the Advanced Paralegal Institute.
Core Registered Paralegal
To earn the CORE Registered Paralegal designation, you must take and pass the Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCE) and meet one of the following requirements:
- Earn an associate’s degree in paralegal studies
- Earn an associate’s degree in any subject, followed by a paralegal certificate
- Earn an associate’s degree in any subject, followed by at least 1 year of experience and at least 6 continuing legal education units, including at least 1 hour of ethics taken in the last year
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in any subject, followed by a paralegal certificate
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in any subject, followed by at least 6 months of experience and 1 hour of ethics taken in the last year
- Be an active duty, retired, or former military personnel qualified in a military operation specialty as a paralegal and 1 hour of ethics continuing legal education taken in the last year
- Earn a paralegal certificate, followed by at least 1 year of experience and 6 hours of continuing legal education taken in the last year
- Earn a high school diploma or GED and have at least 5 years of experience and 12 hours of continuing legal education, including at least 1 hour of ethics taken in the 2 years
The PCCE exam consists of 125 multiple-choice questions. You are allowed 2 ½ hours to take the exam. The exam is divided into questions about the paralegal practice (52 percent) and questions about substantive areas of law (48 percent).
You must maintain your CRP credential by completing at least 8 hours of continuing legal education every 2 years, one of which must be in legal ethics.
Registered Paralegal (RP)
To qualify for the advanced Registered Paralegal (RP) designation, you must take and pass the Paralegal Advanced Competency (PACE) Exam and meet one of the following requirements:
- Earn an associate’s degree in paralegal studies through an ABA program or accredited college or university AND at least 6 years of paralegal experience; OR
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in any course of study and at least 3 years of paralegal experience; OR
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in a paralegal program or a bachelor’s degree followed by a paralegal program AND at least 2 years of paralegal experience; OR
- Have at least four years of paralegal experience (obtained on or before December 2000)
The PACE exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions that must be completed in 4 hours. Questions are not practice-specific, but instead hypothetical questions related to the knowledge of an experienced paralegal. The exam covers 5 domains:
- Administration of Client Legal Matters (23%)
- Development of Client Legal Matters (30%)
- Factual and Legal Research (22%)
- Factual and Legal Writing (20.5%)
- Office Administration (4.5%)
To maintain the RP credential, you must complete at least 12 hours of continuing legal education, including at least 1 hour of ethics, every 2 years.
You can also earn specialty certification through the Advanced Paralegal Institute (API), which partners with NFPA to provide five advanced specialty certificates in:
- Corporate Law
- Elder Law
- Intellectual Property
- Litigation and Alternative Dispute Resolution
- Corporate Law
API specialty courses, each of which consists of a web-based three- or four-course sequence, are designed for paralegals who have already earned a certificate or degree from a program accredited by the United States Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
Become a member of NFPA and enjoy benefits like discounts to the annual convention, discount on the NFPA’s National Paralegal Reporter magazine, and preferred rates through a number of websites and retailers.
Membership types include:
- Individual Sustaining Membership
- Military Membership
- Student Membership
- Organizational Membership
Student/Professional Scholarships and Awards
Are you a student working toward your first paralegal degree, or are you a practicing paralegal with plans to go back to school for an advanced degree? The NFPA has a number of awards and scholarships that recognize NFPA members who stand out in the profession:
Individual Pro Bono Award
The NFPA Individual Pro Bono Award recognizes a practicing paralegal who has delivered pro bono services to those who otherwise couldn’t afford legal services.
NFPA Outstanding Local Leader Award
The NFPA Outstanding Local Leader Award recognizes a practicing paralegal who has made outstanding leadership contributions to his/her NFPA member association.
NFPA Paralegal of the Year Award
The NFPA Paralegal of the Year Award recognizes a paralegal whose on-the-job achievements have improved the paralegal profession.
William R. Robie Leadership Award
The William R Robie Leadership Award recognizes an NFPA member who has shown a dedication to the paralegal profession and a desire to deliver legal services to ensure justice to all Americans.
Paralegal Certification Ambassador & Association Award
The Paralegal Certification Ambassador & Association Award recognizes paralegals for their outstanding achievement on the NFPA paralegal certification examinations.
PACE and PCCE Scholarships
NFPA and selected sponsors award one PACE and one PCCE scholarship each year that covers the examination fee, application fee, and handbook fees.
The NFPA and Thomson-Reuters awards annual scholarships totaling $5,000 to paralegal students throughout the U.S.
Continuing Legal Education
The NFPA provides plenty of opportunities for continuing education, through their 2017 annual convention and policy meeting, through the Institute of Paralegal Education’s unlimited, on-demand courses, and through SmartPros’ unlimited CLE offerings, and recorded CLE webinars. Just some of the course offered through NFPA’s CLE webinars include:
- Legal Project Management: Paralegal Training
- Core Knowledge Ethics for the Professional Paralegal
- Medical Records Evaluations for Legal Teams
- Trial by iPad – Plan, Prepare, and Perform
- Rules Based Docketing 101
- Immigration Law: The Fundamentals
NALA: The Paralegal Association
While NALA may be best known for its professional certification program, this paralegal organization also provides continuing legal education opportunities and professional development programs. NALA works to provide their more than 18,000 paralegals with opportunities to excel in the profession.
NALA offers two types of certifications:
- Certified Paralegal Program (CP)
- Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP)
The Certified Paralegal (CP) program is the basic credential that requires taking and passing a certification examination.
To qualify to take the CP exam, you must meet one of the following requirements:
- Graduate from an approved paralegal program:
- Graduate from an ABA-approved program; OR
- Graduate from an associate degree program; OR
- Graduate from a post-baccalaureate certificate program in paralegal studies; OR
- Complete a paralegal program that includes at least 60 semester hours, of which at least 15 semester hours are in substantive legal courses; OR
- Graduate from a bachelor’s degree in any field and have at least one year of paralegal experience; must also include at least 15 semester hours of substantive legal courses
- A high school diploma and at least seven years of experience as a paralegal under a member of the bar, and at least 20 hours of continuing legal education credit within the last 2 years
Once admitted into the CP program, you must complete a five-part examination that assess your skills in communications, ethics, legal research, substantive law, and judgment and analytical ability.
The CP credential is good for 5 years, and renewal is based on the completion of at least 50 hours of continuing legal education, including at least 5 hours in legal ethics.
These web-based courses are about 20 hours in length and are delivered online. Each course is organized into multiple modules and includes exercises completed through a curriculum-based model, followed by an assessment.
Some of the course offerings through the Advanced Certified Paralegal program include trademarks, estate planning, real estate, family law, and e-discovery.
Become a member of NALA at the Active Membership, Associate/Sustaining Membership, or Student Membership level and enjoy access to continuing education courses, member activities, and more.
NALA partners with hundreds of affiliate associations at the state level, thereby allowing you to become an active member in the state where you reside.
Continuing Legal Education
NALA provides a host of continuing education opportunities for paralegals, including live courses, self-study courses, and on-demand webinars. NALA members enjoy discounts on all continuing education courses, including the NALA Conference & Expo.
Some of the self-study courses available include the American Legal System, Alternative Dispute Resolution, and Business Organizations, while webinars include everything from Music Law and Intellectual Property Rights to Deposition Video Tips and Tricks to Effective Time Management for Today’s Paralegals.
NALA also offers it members access to its Career Center, a depository of valuable information for job searching success and a place to post a job and find a job.
Just some of the available tools here include Interview Tips, Resume Writing Tips, Starting a Second Career, and Networking.
NALS: The Association for Legal Professionals
NALS: The Association for Legal Professionals is known for its professional certification programs for paralegals, as well as its many networking and education events.
NALS offers two certification levels:
- Professional Paralegal (PP)
- NALS Specialty Certificate
Professional Paralegal (PP)
The NALS’ Professional Paralegal designation (PP) requires taking and passing the PP Examination and meeting one of the following requirements:
- Have at least five years of experience performing paralegal/legal assistant duties
- Graduate from a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies
- Graduate from an ABA-approved Paralegal Program.
- Graduate from another accredited paralegal program that includes at least 60 semester hours and includes at least 15 semester hours in substantive law
- Graduate from a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field and have at least one year of experience performing paralegal/legal assistant duties
The PP Examination is a one-day, four-part examination that includes:
- Written Communications
- Legal Knowledge and Skills
- Ethics and Judgement Skills
- Substantive Law
The PP certificate is valid for 5 years. At least 75 hours of continuing legal education credits are required to recertify. At least 50 hours of CLE must be on substantive areas and at least 5 hours on ethics.
NALS Specialty Certificate
The NALS Specialty Certificate is designed for practicing paralegals who want to specialize in one of the following areas:
- Administrative law
- Appellate law
- Bankruptcy law
- Business law
- Civil litigation
- Contract law
- Corporate law
- Criminal law
- Estate planning/Probate
- Family law
- Immigration law
- Insurance law
- Intellectual property
- Juvenile law
- Law office management
- Personal injury law
- Real estate law
- Trial management
You can earn a Specialty Certificate by obtaining 50 continuing legal education credit hours within a five-year period. You can earn CLE credits by attending seminars, workshops, and webinars, teaching seminars and workshops, authoring articles and publications, and completing postsecondary education courses. Certificates are valid for a period of 5 years.
Become a member of NALS and stay up-to-date on the rapidly growing paralegal profession. According to NALS, membership affords you with a number of benefits that allow you to improve your skillset, network with colleagues, and advanced your career. NALS features community forums that allow paralegals to learn from one another and share thoughts and ideas.
Members of NALS often enjoy activities and opportunities through NALS’ state associations.
Continuing Legal Education
NALS offers a wide array of continuing legal education opportunities through state meetings, the NALS Education and Networking conference, and through distance-based study programs such as its WebEd Program and the NALS OnDemand Library.
NALS WebEd, which offers webinars on a variety of subjects each month, is available to both members and non-members.
The NALS OnDemand Library is valuable education resource that carries past webinars, past issues of the NALS Docket e-magazine, and dozens of presentations from past conference sessions.
The NALS Career Center is a valuable resource for paralegals looking for their first or next job. In addition to searching for jobs by state, members can upload their resume and receive a free review.
The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.
The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. is a national paralegal association that offers both membership and certification opportunities.
As of 2017, the American Alliance has certified just 74 paralegals.
American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) certification relies solely on the paralegal education and experience you have and does not require you to demonstrate your knowledge through examination. Meet the appropriate education and experience requirements and you can become AACP-certified.
The AACP designation requires you to have at least 5 years of substantive legal experience, along with one of the following:
- A bachelor’s degree or advanced degree in any discipline
- An associate’s degree in paralegal studies from an ABA-approved program or a program that is a voting institutional member of the American Association for Paralegal Education.
- A certificate from an ABA-approved paralegal program or a program that is a voting institutional member of the American Association for Paralegal Education.
To become a member of the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. you must meet at least one of the following requirements:
- Bachelor’s degree and two years of paralegal experience
- Bachelor’s degree and a two-year paralegal certificate
- Associate’s degree, a two-year paralegal certificate, and two years of paralegal experience
- Associate’s degree and four years of paralegal experience
- Paralegal certificate and six years of current paralegal experience
American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC)
While most paralegal associations are directed at the paralegal profession as a whole, the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC) focuses on registered nurses who serve in a consulting capacity within the legal field.
The AALNC provides legal nurse consultants with an opportunity to demonstrate their expertise and competency in the field by earning the Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC) designation.
To qualify to take the certification examination to become an LNCC, you must be currently licensed as an RN in the U.S., have at least five years of experience practicing as an RN, and have at least 2,000 hours of legal nurse consulting experience within the last five years.
The certification examination is based on an analysis of legal nurse consulting in practice. The test consists of 200 multiple choice questions that take about 4 hours to complete.
Membership with the AALNC allows registered nurses to broaden their professional network through networking events and continuing education resources.
Members of the AALNC are listed on the LNC Locator, a tool used by many attorneys to locate legal nurse consultants in their area and based on their clinical practice area and legal practice area.
You can become either an RN member of the AALNC, which is reserved for licensed registered nurses in the U.S., or as a non-RN member.
The AALNC features a Career Center that allows job seekers to search for a job based on the state in which they live.
It also features a Job Search Resource Center, where legal nurse consultants or aspiring legal nurse consultants take advantage of resources and articles on everything from resume writing to interviewing to career advancement.
Continuing Education Opportunities
The AALNC hosts a variety of events and educational opportunities in the spirit of career advancement and commitment to the profession.
In addition to national events like the AALNC annual forum and national webinars, the AALNC offers the Legal Nurse Consulting Online Course, designed as an interactive learning experience for individuals with interest in pursuing the legal nurse consulting profession.
Webinars through the AALNC may be live, on-demand, and even free.
The AALNC Continuing Education Committee is accredited through the American Nurses Credentialing Center as a provider of continuing nursing education.
Association of Legal Administrators (ALA)
The Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) provides support to legal professionals who
manage law firms, corporate legal departments, and governmental agencies.
The ALA offers the Certified Legal Manager professional designation for legal administrators seeking a way to prove their advanced competency and knowledge. You may apply for this certification as either a Principal Administrator or Functional Specialist (HR manager, finance manager, etc.).
You must also be currently employed full-time in a legal organization, such as a legal clinic, law firm, governmental agency, etc. and have at least 24 months of experience in a legal setting.
All candidates must also meet the education requirements for certification within 24 months of applying for certification by completing at least 2 hours of coursework in each of the five management categories:
- Writing skills
- Communication skills
- Self-management skills
- Information technology
- Organizational development
Education requirements can be satisfied by taking courses/continuing education courses/seminars/conferences through the ALA, the American Bar Association (ABA), or other professional associations.
Once you’ve applied and are accepted, you must take and pass the CLM certification examination, which assesses an individual’s knowledge of financial management, human resources management, legal industry/business management, and operations management.
Become an ALA member by meeting one of the following requirements:
- Be a full-time legal administrator for support managers of law firms, legal clinics, corporate legal departments, etc.
- Be a practicing lawyer with principal management responsibility
- Be a consultant to the legal industry
You can also be an associate member if you don’t meet the requirements for a regular membership but you have an interest in law firm administration and management or are employed in a job with similar management duties.
The ALA provides a Job Bank that both job seekers and employers can post to and browse. You can search for legal administrator jobs by keyword, location, and category (marketing, human resources, financial management, etc.).
It also provides legal administrators with a variety of career resources, including articles, a weekly Career Connection newsletter, and a number of free resources through Robert Half Legal, including a career resources kit to get your career off the ground or to the next level, and a compensation and benefits survey so you can see what the colleagues in your field are earning.
Continuing Education Opportunities
The ALA promotes continuing education and professional development through their annual and regional conferences and their various e-learning opportunities, such as live webinars, on-demand webinars, podcasts and on-demand conference recordings.
National Paralegal Association (NPA)
The National Paralegal Association (NPA) is an international organization that offers programs and benefits for individuals, corporate legal departments, law firms, training schools and colleges, and independent paralegals. In addition to membership opportunities, NPA provides its members with an employment network and other networking opportunities.
Become a member of the NPA at the pre-student, student, regular, or associate/paralegal school level and enjoy access to their network of resources for professional development. Those interested in NPA membership must fill out an Individual Inquiry Form.
Professional Development Opportunities
The NPA’s Career Center is open to paralegals looking for their first job or their next job. Use the database to search for paralegal jobs by state and submit your resume for a free resume review.
Within the NPA Career Center is the Job Search Research Center, which provides helpful articles that help paralegals navigate the job search process. Articles and resources focus on resume writing, interviewing, advancing in the field, and navigating the realm of social media and digital communication.
It also features a unique section called “Ask the Experts,” where paralegals can post questions about their job search and have it answered by NPA’s career experts.
International Practice Management Association (IPMA)
The International Practice Management Association (IPMA), which was formerly known as the Legal Assistant Management Association, is an international association of managers of paralegal programs in law firms, governmental agencies, corporate legal departments, and judicial and legal agencies.
According to the IPMA, the key element to success in the IPMA is interaction with peers, which makes membership an important part of this organization. Membership is available to paralegal managers and other practice support managers.
You must be a member of the IPMA to enjoy their many resources, such as full access to the IPMA membership directory, the metropolitan chapters of the IPMA, the IMPA mentor program, LinkedIn discussion groups, position papers, business partner directories, and much more.
A number of IPMA resources are available to members and non-members alike, including:
- An annual compensation survey for paralegals and managers
- Virtual webinars, both live and recorded
- The Career Center/Job Bank that lists all the recent jobs in the field of legal management
- Access to the IPMA Annual Conference & Expo
American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE)
The American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) promotes quality paralegal education through educational standards and professional growth. The AAfPE also works alongside the American Bar Association and other professional associations and institutions to develop an approval process for paralegal education programs.
Some of the services offered through the AAfPE include:
- Forums for professional improvement for paralegal educators
- Annual conferences and seminars
- Technical assistance and consultation to educators, employers, and educational institutions
While membership and action in the AAfPE is targeted at institutions offering paralegal programs, students and practicing paralegals can take advantage of their host of resources.
For example, the AAfPE is a great resource for aspiring paralegals interested in sorting out the differences among paralegal programs, educational standards among paralegal programs, and how paralegal programs are evaluated.
American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on Paralegals
The ABA Standing Committee on Paralegals works to improve the American justice system by establishing ABA standards for paralegal education. The Standing Committee’s Approval Commission serves as the body that sets the most widely recognized standards for paralegal education and also monitors developing trends in the field.
Institutions that meet ABA standards for paralegal education receive ABA-approval. The Standing Committee maintains a directory of programs that have met the ABA approval process.