Paralegal matters: The difference between certification and licensing

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Paralegals secure a certification and a license to prove their qualifications. While the certification verifies their adherence to established educational standards for paralegals, the license serves as their legal authorization to work in a specific state.

To obtain a certification in the US, paralegals are required to pass the Certified Paralegal Exam, which is administered by the National Association of Legal Assistants. The certification is also renewed annually. NALA requires paralegals to take continuing legal education courses before getting a nod for renewal.

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The license requirement, meanwhile, is specific to a state. It permits paralegals to perform their duties and use the title “paralegal” to identify their profession. It may also cover different titles like “legal assistant” and “lawyer assistant.” States that require paralegal licensing also have the power to suspend or revoke licenses for misdemeanors.

The International Paralegal Management Association, however, opposes the state’s compulsory regulation of paralegals and argues that only the law firms have the right to control them. They believe that the certification and registration of paralegals are unnecessary because the traditional paralegal services are rendered under the supervision of lawyers. Nevertheless, IPMA still need to lobby its position to change the state laws.

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While a certification and license establish the competence of paralegals, it should be noted that not all law firms require these documents at present. The employment of paralegals is largely dependent on the judgment of the lawyers who hire them.

Sheila Cartwright is an Arizona-based paralegal recognized for her proficiency in legal administration. Subscribe to this Facebook page to get updates on the paralegal industry.


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