Is Mandatory Paralegal Certification Necessary?

Currently, across the US,  obtaining paralegal certification is not a mandatory requirement; in fact, for most states (California is the only exception to this rule), the paralegal field is not required to be regulated at all. However, many paralegals choose to be self-regulating, following standards and codes of ethics of local or national paralegal associations.

Some may argue that the legal field itself has ways to monitor paralegal activities, such as the prohibition against engaging in the practice of law. Although, paralegals cannot participate in the unauthorized practice of law, that law against non-attorneys practicing law pertains to every person, whether you're working as a paralegal or even a house keeper. However, since paralegals have more chance to take part in activities that may cause harm to clients with legal problems and issues, the question that has been bounced around now for quite awhile is whether paralegals should be forced to be certified.

Proponents of mandatory certification think that mandatory certification will bring the deserved respect for the profession by eliminating individuals who work essentially as secretaries from being referred to as paralegals. Also mandatory paralegal certification would set up educational and ethical guidelines, thereby raising paralegals' standing and hopefully their pay.

Mandatory certification could also prove to be beneficial for attorneys because generally, they will be able to bill clients extra for the certified paralegal's time than they can for a paralegal that has not received certification. Those same law firms can utilize certified paralegals in lieu of hiring entry-level associates to do some of the same types of work, such as conducting research, interviewing witnesses, and drafting responses to discovery requests.

Some, that do not believe that certification must be mandatory believe that government intervention in this way will harm the paralegal industry. It's believed that mandatory certification will likely impose limits on what work paralegals can do. Also, you will find there's a belief that mandatory certification is nothing more than a licensing hoax and a way of controlling who attorneys are allowed to hire. Instead of mandatory certification, many think that regulation can be accomplished through effective supervision through the the employing attorney.

Whether paralegal certification ought to be mandatory is a question that may continue to be debated for a while. Paralegals who would like to be proactive may decide to get ahead of the trend (that is probably inevitable) and go ahead and get certified because certification can be beneficial for those wanting to further their career, increase their knowledge base, or increase their income.

Do you think that mandatory certification should be enacted?

5 comments:

kp said...

Hi Jenny - Thank you for your article. I am a Certified Paralegal. I would like to make a point that certification and being a "certified" are two different things. Some paralegals misunderstand the difference. I agree that in California, a practicing paralegal must have a certificate of completed studies, but being "certified" is an extra step that is not required in any state. Being "certified" requires extra studies and a rigorous 2-day test with a requirement to maintain extra hours of CLE to retain the credential. I have found that it is recognized by attorneys who understand they are hiring a paralegal who has completed extra education and ongoing education.
Thank you. Kathy Parker, CP

Truth in Justice Files said...

I have been a litigation paralegal since before there was a name for what I do. When local colleges and community colleges began to offer paralegal studies, I taught several units. I still teach continuing education workshops. Through it all, I have never sought certification and at this juncture, the last thing I want to do is spend my time and money sitting through classes I've taught. We have several paralegals with our firm who have paralegal certificates, associate degrees and bachelor degrees. There are huge holes in their educations nonetheless, which have to be filled by employers in the real world.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely, certification is a must! I presently work with a noncertified coworker who filled a position of paralegal on the job. However, after numerous drastic mistakes, no legal writing experience, no knowledge of the code of ethics, this person still does not fit well in the position. It is not enough for a noncertified person to work as a paralegal but to fake it is deplorable. Anyone can pretend that they understand the technical and legal aspects of a job when one's job skills and performance are limited to imitating and performing tasks that's already been prepared for them to do and basically already in place. Maybe anyone with some intelligence can learn to do regular office work. But a certified paralegal has a career standard to adhere to and innovatingly works with what is in place to improve it going forward and is expected at all times to know what is going on. From my experience noncertified workers tend to lack motivation in a profession when there are no laws or regulations to draw from and elicit protection. Certification innovates and esteems moral conduct. Hope this helps.

L Lawson said...

I believe certification should be required to be hired as a paralegal but certified paralegals, there is a difference, are usually only required for areas such as real estate, trusts, etc. I understand there are many people with more experience than I that should be grandfathered in, maybe with a one day test opposed to going back to school. But there are many out there who have no experience that not only damage the reputation of trained paralegals but also lower the overall pay rate of those who have spent years in school.

Debi Windsor said...

My take on it is why should I bother to struggle through countless hours of classes and tests when someone who was the receptionist gets placed into a position and then starts calling herself a "Paralegal." so what was all of my hard work for if just anybody can call themselves a paralegal. For that matter, why don't I just call myself an attorney even though I didn't go to law school. I think it's a matter of respecting the fact that there are those who are willing to expend the time and energy to become certified that should be recognized for such.

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