Paralegal Certificate: Is It Enough to Secure a Job?
Before explaining why it’s not enough to become a paralegal with just a certificate, an important distinction needs to be made. A certificate does not mean that you are a certified paralegal.
You can get a certificate in paralegal studies by going to school, but when you graduate you are not automatically certified. Having an education and a paralegal certificate are stepping stones to becoming certified.
From there, you can become a Certified Paralegal by taking, and passing, the Certified Paralegal examination, offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). You can also take national certification exams offered by The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) or The Association for Legal Professionals (NALS).
Here’s why you need more than a paralegal certificate if you really want to compete in this field:
1. Many Employers Require Certification
In most cases, states do little or nothing to regulate paralegals. Some states have legal requirements that paralegals must follow but don’t require certification, while other states offer voluntary certification programs that are state-specific.
However, these days more and more employers require their paralegals to be either national or state certified. This type of certification ensures the quality of paralegals, by having standardized assessment of a paralegals’ skills and knowledge.
2. Certification Shows Dedication
A basic certificate can be earned in a year after high school, but it doesn’t give you the general knowledge you would get by earning a degree first. For this reason, you will not find an American Bar Association (ABA) approved program right out of high school or online.
If you cannot afford a degree, a technical certificate program can give you paralegal training and help you get your foot in the door. However, going to school and getting your certification shows that you’ve received more education and practical experience, and that you’ve invested more time and money in your future as a paralegal.
3. You're Competing with Advanced and Specialized Paralegals
While a basic certificate program is a great start to a career as a paralegal, there are many ways for paralegals to set themselves apart in the eyes of potential employers.
For instance, national certification exams (like the Professional Paralegal Exam offered by NALS) demonstrate advanced knowledge, mastery, and prove that a paralegal has the skills required to excel in their career.
Similarly, Advanced Paralegal Certification courses offered by NALA, “recognize a paralegal's commitment to continued growth and life-long learning.” These courses allow paralegals to specialize in different areas such as family law, criminal litigation, trademarks, and contracts management.
4. Finding On-the-Job Training is Hard
As demand for paralegals increases and standardization becomes more common, many employers look for a combination education and experience (degrees, certification, internships, references) when hiring paralegals. Working your way up to a job as a paralegal after high school or being offered on-the-job training is less common these days.
5. You Probably Won't Earn as Much
Being a paralegal is hard work and takes a person with specific skills and talents, such as great communication and organizational skills. Paralegals with more knowledge and experience are usually compensated better compared to those who are starting with just a year of learning about law under their belt.
If you can afford to go for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree and certification, your investment will likely earn you bigger returns in the future.
So, Can You Get a Paralegal Job with a Paralegal Certificate?
There’s never been a better time to become a paralegal in the United States. Paralegals are in high demand and can choose to work in a variety of environments and specializations. Although there are a few certificate programs that you can take out of high school, these programs make it hard to compete in a field where many paralegals become certified and specialized.
Going the extra mile to get a degree and either national or state paralegal certification may take more time and money, but if this is an option for you the extra learning and experience pays off in the end.