From Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has become a shining star for its biotech, higher education, and healthcare industries. For aspiring and practicing paralegals, this means exciting professional opportunities with healthcare giants like UPMC and Penn Medicine; corporate powerhouses like PPG Industries, United States Steel, Sunoco, and Dick’s Sporting Goods; and major nonprofits like the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, and the ALS Association Western Pennsylvania Chapter.
Learning how to become a paralegal in Pennsylvania means understanding the education and credentials required by the state’s top employers.
Pennsylvania’s paralegals are not required by law to obtain set standards of training or education prior to entering the profession. However, voluntary certification is available through the Keystone Alliance of Paralegal Associations (KAPA). The Pennsylvania Certified Paralegal Credential (PaCP) Program was developed to set a benchmark for paralegal qualifications and to demonstrate paralegals’ commitment to continued learning within their field. Certification requires that paralegals meet education and experience guidelines. PaCPs must renew their certification every two years after completing continuing legal education (CLE) hours.
Under Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court Rule 5.3, attorneys must directly supervise paralegals, including providing them with guidance in matters of ethics and confidentiality. Attorneys are also responsible for the professional conduct of their paralegal employees. Paralegals are prohibited from representing themselves as professional that are able to legally advise the public or able to deliver legal services independently of attorney supervision.
Is There Paralegal Certification in Pennsylvania?
Although it is not required in Pennsylvania, growing numbers of aspiring paralegals are choosing educational programs in paralegal studies. Not only can a degree or certificate help distinguish job candidates in a competitive job market, they can also prepare paralegals to become Pennsylvania Certified Paralegal (PaCPs) or nationally certified paralegals. Employers, KAPA, and the national paralegal associations offering certification may desire that a paralegal studies program or degree be earned from an accredited institution or that is American Bar Association (ABA) approved. It is important to research these criteria before selecting a program.
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The educational requirements for becoming a PaCP are:
- A bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies from paralegal program that is ABA approved and one year of substantive work experience as a paralegal
- A bachelor’s degree in any subject from an accredited educational institution and a completion of a certificate program or associate degree in paralegal studies from an ABA-approved program, and one year of substantive work experience as a paralegal
- A bachelor’s degree in any subject from an accredited educational institution and three years of substantive work experience as a paralegal
- An associate degree in paralegal studies and five years of substantive work experience as a paralegal
- A certificate from a paralegal certificate program and five years of substantive work experience as a paralegal
- National certification as a CLA, CP or RP or other paralegal certification recognized by the Keystone Alliance of Paralegal Associations and two years of substantive work experience as a paralegal
Although the two terms are similar, paralegal certificates and paralegal certification are two separate designations. Certificates are earned by completing a paralegal certificate educational program. Upon successfully finishing the program of study, a paralegal receives a certificate of completion and becomes a certificated paralegal.
Paralegals who meet eligibility requirements and who pass one of the certification exams offered by the national paralegal associations become certified paralegals. Currently the three professional organizations offer four national exams from which to select:
- 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)
The PaCP program recognizes national certification as a means of becoming state certified.
Pennsylvania is home to many smaller paralegal associations that are part of a larger alliance known as the Keystone Alliance of Paralegal Associations (KAPA). Through KAPA, over 1,400 paralegals have representation in state and national conversations about paralegals, access to information exchanges with other state and national organizations, and working relationships with others in the legal community. KAPA also developed and manages the Pennsylvania Certified Paralegal Credential (PaCP) program.
To qualify for the Pennsylvania Certified Paralegal Program (Pa.C.P.) you must be working as a paralegal and have one of the following:
- Bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies plus one year of paralegal work experience
- Bachelor’s degree in any subject, a certificate or associate’s degree in paralegal studies 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 plus five years of paralegal experience
- One of the following national certifications:
- The National Association of Legal Assistants’ (NALA)’s Certified Paralegal (CP)/Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) credential
- The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)’s Registered Paralegal (RP) credential
The Keystone Alliance of Paralegal Associations is made up of several local organizations that each offer their own membership. Membership levels generally fall into these categories:
- Voting – Open to any employed paralegal who meets one of the following:
- Bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies
- Bachelor’s degree in any subject plus a paralegal certificate
- Associate’s degree in paralegal studies
- Paralegal certificate plus one year of paralegal work experience
- Two years of paralegal work experience
- Student – Open to anyone enrolled in a paralegal education program approved by the Keystone Alliance member or the ABA
- Associate – Open to anyone who meets any of the following:
- Employed as a paralegal educator
- Previously employed as a paralegal or paralegal educator
- Completed a formal paralegal course of study
- Previously a Voting Member
- Currently employed as a paralegal but does not meet the qualifications for Voting Membership
- Sustaining – Open to any individual or entity that supports the paralegal profession
The local paralegal associations that make up the Keystone Alliance of Paralegal Associations are:
- Central Pennsylvania Paralegal Association (CPPA)
- Chester County Paralegal Association (CCPA)
- Delaware County Paralegal Association (DCPA)
- Lehigh County Paralegal Association (LCPA)
- Montgomery County Paralegal Association (MCPA)
- Philadelphia Association of Paralegals (PAP)
- Pittsburgh Paralegal Association (PPA)
These regional associations provide networking opportunities, continuing legal education (CLE) and professional development, job resources, mentoring programs and social events to their members. Groups range in size from 30 members to 500 members depending on the region. Students, educators and active paralegals may join a regional association in the area where they live or work.
Lancaster Area Paralegal Association (LAPA) – Affiliated with the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), LAPA has four levels of membership:
- Paralegal – Open to anyone currently employed as a paralegal and qualified through education, training, or work experience
- Paralegal Student – Open to recent paralegal graduates and those who are enrolled in a paralegal studies course that leads to employment
- Associate – Open to those from law firms, educational facilities, and other business entities that support the paralegal profession and LAPA
- Sustaining – Open to anyone who does not qualify for any other type of membership but who is interested in supporting LAPA
NALS of Pennsylvania – This is the state level affiliate of the NALS that promotes NALS certification and membership at the following levels:
- Individual – Open to those engaged in work of a legal nature
- Associate – Open to those engaged in work of a legal nature such as educators, judges, and attorneys
- Students – Open to students taking at least nine semester credits from a legal-related program offered by an accredited school
- Retired – Open to those who have been a NALS-affiliated member for at least five years prior to retirement
- Life – Open to qualified individual members
- International – Open to those engaged in work of a legal nature who reside outside the US
NALS of Philadelphia is a local chapter of this association.
Law firms often hire entry-level paralegals and can be good places to begin a career. The metro-Philadelphia and Pittsburg areas are home to many large law firms, including:
- Eckert Seamans Cherin and Mellott
- KandL Gates
- Reed Smith
- Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney
- White and Williams
- Drinker Biddle and Reath
- Blank Rome
- Saul Ewing
- Pepper Hamilton
- Stradley Ronon Stevens and Young
- Morgan, Lewis and Bockius
- Fox Rothschild
- Schnader Harrison Segal and Lewis
- Cozen O’Connor
- Duane Morris
- Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman and Goggin
- Ballard Spahr
Important Contacts for Paralegals
- Keystone Alliance of Paralegal Associations (KAPA), affiliated with
- The Central Pennsylvania Paralegal Association (CPPA), affiliated with the NFPA
- The Chester County Paralegal Association (CCPA)
- The Lancaster Area Paralegal Association (LAPA)
- The Lycoming County Paralegal Association (LCPA), affiliated with the NFPA
- The Montgomery County Paralegal Association (MCPA), affiliated with the NFPA
- The Philadelphia Association of Paralegals (PAP), affiliated with the NFPA
- The Pittsburgh Paralegal Association (PPA), affiliated with the NFPA
- The York County Paralegal Association (YCPA)
- The Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA)
- The Pennsylvania Department of State
- The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania
May 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics salary, growth, and job market trends for paralegals and legal assistants. Figures represent state data, not school specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed December 2021.