Jumping off a listener question, host Carl Morrison devotes an entire episode to answering common questions he hears about an increasingly hot topic: paralegal certification.
Why get certified?
Do certificate paralegals make more money?
What’s the difference between a certificate and a certification?
Which certification program is best?
Is getting a state certification advisable?
Will certification help obtain limited licensing?
Can CLE courses be applied to multiple certification bodies?
What’s the time commitment for certifications?
In this episode, find answers to these questions and hear why Carl decided to pursue so many certifications.
Special thanks to our sponsors, NALA, ServeNow, CourtFiling.net and Legalinc.
The Paralegal Voice
The Value of Certification
Carl Morrison: Hello everyone. Welcome to The Paralegal Voice here on the Legal Talk Network. I’m Carl Morrison Advanced Certified Paralegal and your host of The Paralegal Voice.
Before we start today’s show, we would like to thank our sponsor NALA. NALA is a professional association for paralegals providing continuing education, voluntary certification and professional development programs. NALA has been a sponsor of The Paralegal Voice since our very first show.
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And ServeNow, a nationwide network of trusted pre-screened process servers. Work with the most professional process servers who have experience with high volume serves, who embrace technology and understand the litigation process. Visit servenow.com to learn more.
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Well, guys I’m going to mix it up a bit today, and actually I’m going to start our show with my favorite segment called, The Listeners Voice, and as long time listeners know and first time listeners, this is your opportunity to send me your questions, comments and career celebrations or anything paralegal or legal related and I’ll share that with everyone here on Paralegal Voice. So email me at [email protected] and share with me your paralegal joys.
So, today’s email comes from a paralegal soon to be certified and this particular individual wrote to me and said, Good Morning Carl, I’ve been listening to your podcast for a while now and really enjoy it. I’m so impressed with all your certifications and have a few questions. Number one, if you take one CLE course, can you apply the credits to all memberships? Number two, how long did it take you to study for each exam? Number three, how long did it take you to obtain all the certifications and did you space them out or accomplish them within a certain time period?
Well, she says also that I’m currently studying for my PCCE Certification and having a little more trouble than I anticipated which is totally bumming me out. But I’m working through it and know, it’s only because I’m not familiar with some of the practice areas. So I just have to keep studying. I’m enrolled in Advanced Paralegal Institute Course, which is a big help with practice exams in addition to the supplemental reading to better understand the material.
Are there any other guides or helpful tips or courses you could suggest so I can ace the exam? Thank you for your time, the podcast and all the wonderful work you do for the profession, signed paralegal soon to be certified.
So I got this email and I was like wow, this is a great question and paralegal soon to be certified, this is to you. I loved your questions so much, and I thought you know what, I’ve been on a kind of a quest to really help educate the profession, not only paralegals, but the legal profession as a whole on certification. The past several months I’ve been presenting to different groups and organizations about paralegal certification and I thought you know what, this is the prime perfect time for me to dedicate an entire episode to the value of certification and what it means to really be a certified paralegal in today’s legal industry.
You know especially with the advent of these limited licensed legal paraprofessional programs that are coming on and being implemented across the country, and so certification is a big part and it’s a big discussion. And I thought okay, well, I couldn’t think of a more qualified person to really discuss certification and me. Why can’t I really talk about it. I’ve got multiple paralegal certifications. I help educate the profession and individuals about it so why not.
So I’m going to handle today’s show as if I was a guest on someone else’s show and I’m going to be asking questions and I’m going to be providing you guys the answers to these questions and these are not questions that I came up with, really guys these are questions that I actually get asked all the time. So I really want to share with you guys the passion and information and education as it relates to certifications for our profession.
So, should we just jump right into it, shall we? Let’s just get right off to my first question. So, my first question is going to be, why should I get a paralegal certification or why should someone get a paralegal certification? I get this question asked all the time. Well what does it benefit me? There’s a litany of reasons why you should really get and obtain a paralegal certification. You know most people and NALA does a survey every two years. Their most recent survey that they did, they talked about certification, specifically the benefit of it and about 60% of those that were surveyed with that particular survey saw obtaining a certification as a professional growth, a way to professional growth.
Certification is not mandatory. You do not have to have a paralegal certification, a national certification or even a state certification I’ll talk about that in a little bit. But you don’t have to have a certification in order to work as a paralegal, you can work even with very limited experience or education in the legal industry. It doesn’t behoove you did not have education before you start, but most places don’t even ask for certification. So why would I get one?
Well, it’s a way like I said for professional growth. It demonstrates that you have gone above and beyond what is required of you in order to work and practice as a paralegal in the industry, whether it be in private practice or a corporate setting, in-house corporate legal department.
Another reason why is that, again, using the NALA Survey, over 70% of firms actually pay for CLE. So, if you’re looking for a way to continue your legal education even as you work, firms pay for the CLE. So, if you’re certified you have to maintain certain number of hours of continuing legal education every depending on the organization; two years, five years, whatever the case may be and if you’re going to have a firm, work for a firm or even a corporate legal department, nearly three-quarters of those that were surveyed, actually pay for the CLE.
So why not, actually it keeps you relevant, it keeps you engaged in the legal industry and like I said a minute ago, having a certification really again, it demonstrates that you’ve gone above and beyond because and I may have said this on another show, I can’t remember I say it so many times and to many different people, as a paralegal manager someone that actually interviews paralegals for open paralegal positions over the years and I get two qualified applicants and I’m looking at their resume and they are equal on all footing, they, everything is identical, but one is certified, one is not. That certification I may actually use that as the determining factor in order to hire the respective individual, and to be honest guys I’ve done it. I’ve actually interviewed and hired someone that had a certification versus the other person that did not. We only had one opening and that was my way to determine. Yeah, I’m going to go with this person. They were both such great qualified individuals, kid you not, six eight months later we had another paralegal opening and I went straight back to that other person that didn’t have one and said hey come on, you know, I did hire that respective individual, but I used it as a factor to help.
Now, I have noticed of recent that many jobs are actually asking for as part of the requirement in order to apply for the job is to have a certification, especially in the corporate setting. They’re actually very fully versed on paralegal certification. So having it, you may really even need it to get the job that you want, but it’s a way for you to demonstrate that you’ve gone above and beyond, that you’re dedicated to the profession and that you’re looking to continue to grow as a professional.
So, next question. Can I have a lot more money by making a paralegal certification? Am I going to earn a ton more money Carl being certified?
Well, there’s a debate about that, whether you actually make more money being certified versus non-certified. There’s a lot of variables and that was a hard question to really pin down, because depending on the area of law that you’re working in, depending on the size of the firm or corporation that you’re working for, so on and so forth.
But in general, when you look at the Bureau of Labor and Statistics data and the last data point I have for them was from 2019, on the average salary for paralegal, just to strike paralegal in the industry, it’s about $51,740, so it’s about $52,000 a year. That’s the average salary for paralegal in the United States. And when you look at NALA’s Survey around the same timeframe, the average salary for a certified paralegal was $62,642. So on average it’s about 62,000. So there’s about a $10,000 difference for certified versus non-certified.
Now, I put an asterisk and a caveat on those data points, because again, it depends on the area of country you’re living in, depends on the size of the firm, area of law, so on and so forth. But you can see what I’m giving you and why I’m demonstrating this to you there is an actual difference on being certified versus non-certified when you are looking at a salary. It gives you an opportunity also again, going back to, it’s voluntary, it’s not required to have it, you can demonstrate to a potential employer or even your current employer if you’re not certified you’re going to get your certification. You can say, hey look, certified paralegals do make a little bit more money, let’s negotiate salary for having my certification.
So there is an opportunity for making more money as a certified paralegal. So what’s the difference between having a certificate and being certified. I have a certificate from a program, aren’t they the same thing, can’t I say I am a certified paralegal because I have a certificate? That is a wrong answer, you cannot. There is a difference between obtaining a certificate through a program and being certified. A certificate is assessment based, you’re going to go through an educational or training program, you have to complete a series of classes or courses in order to obtain a certificate and you can only say and call yourself a certificated which is a weird word to say, I’m a certificated paralegal, but the better way to say it is, I have my Certificate in Paralegal Studies.
Now conversely, being certified means you’ve gone through a certain exam, one exam, it’s through an agency or an organization, association, you have to meet certain established requirements and/or pass a certification exam. And there are requirements in order to maintain that respective certification, so you have to look at the governing body that’s providing the certification. That is when you can say I am a Certified Paralegal not capitalized Certified Paralegal, I’ll explain that in a second, but you can say I’m a certified paralegal because I have obtained a certification through an organization and certification is voluntary, well education is also voluntary I don’t have to have — I’m not required to have a certificate in order to work, but certification is voluntary, you don’t have to go through a certification exam in order to be — you do have to go through an exam to say you’re certified, but you don’t have to necessarily have it.
So another question I get asked a lot is I graduated from an ABA approved paralegal program, can’t I call myself an ABA Certified Paralegal? Absolutely not. I just recently presented with Dana Fischel to the San Diego Paralegal Association about certification and we talked about this and the ABA specifically states, it’s on their website that you cannot call yourself an ABA Certified Paralegal. The ABA does not, and I stress that does not certify paralegals. When you go through an ABA Approved Paralegal Program, that means the ABA is giving basically their seal of approval on that paralegal program, the program as a whole. That program has met the requirements and guidelines set by the ABA in order for that program to say, they are ABA approved. You get a certificate through an ABA approved program, you cannot call yourself an ABA Certified Paralegal. You really even shouldn’t say that you’re an ABA certificated paralegal, it’s too confusing. So, you can say I have graduated or I have obtained a certificate through an ABA approved program, but you cannot, the ABA expressly states this, you cannot call yourself an ABA Certified Paralegal.
A question I get asked is which paralegal certification should I get, is one better to have than the other? Oh man, this is such a great question. As someone that has gone through all the national certification paralegal programs and gotten a certification from each, the best way to say this and I tell students this, there’s not one is better than the other, they are all very qualified certification programs. They test you differently over the core competencies but it’s how the test is delivered to you, some of the areas that you are being tested over are slightly different, but one’s not that much better than the other. They are all good sound quality certification programs.
The best way for me to recommend and suggest to you listeners is look at your area, your geographical area, what city, what state you’re in, are most paralegals that are certified, do they have the NALA CP, Certified Paralegal designation, do they have the NFPA’s RP Certification, depends on area of the country. Different areas, some areas actually the RP is more recognized than the CP, vice versa, the CP is more recognized than RP or the PP is recognized more than the CP, it just depends on the area, depends on what you’re looking at. They will all help you grow as professionals, it’s like if you’re a believer if you’re a faith believer and if you’re a non-believer, choosing should I go become a Buddhist versus becoming a Catholic. Well, it’s a personal decision really, choosing what is best suited for you in order to meet the goals that you’ve set for yourself as a paralegal.
So I always recommend to individuals investigate all of the exams, determine what meets your requirements for your professional growth and success and then take that test. I have them all because I wanted to be able to help educate paralegal students on what are the differences. Now I can’t divulge the questions I was tested over, all the highly confidential information that you have to sign away when you take the exam, but I can say, here’s how I approached studying for the RP exam, here’s how I approached studying for the PP exam, here’s how I approached studying for the CP exam. Then that way you can understand the challenges that I encountered when I studied for that respective exam.
Should I get a state specific certification? There are a lot a lot of states. If I remember right the counts 18 different states have some type of a state level certification. So depending on the governing body it could be a State Bar, it could be a State Paralegal Association that actually has a certification exam, but if you live in that respective state, investigate your respective state number one and does that state have a certification; California has one, Minnesota has one, Florida has two actually different certifications, the FRP and the FCP, but determine in your respective state that you’re living in if there is a state level certification and investigate the method in which you have to take the test, how difficult the test is. Having that state level will demonstrate that you understand the state procedures, state court rules, things of that nature and help sell you as a well-qualified paralegal for that respective state, and feel free to reach out to me.
I have created a table of the different state certifications who are the different governing bodies about how many are certified within that respective state. So send me an email, [email protected] and I’ll feel free to share that information with you.
I’m going to stop us there for a short commercial break, but we will be right back so don’t turn that dial.
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Carl Morrison: Welcome back to The Paralegal Voice. We’ve been talking about certifications and if you haven’t been able to hear in my voice how much certification means to me, but we’ve been talking about certifications and some of the benefits of having a certification, but I wanted to kind of shift a little bit and step away from just paralegal certifications as a whole, because I could talk all day about that. I really want to talk about what does it mean for the future of the legal industry. Is certification, and I’m just using the word certification, the wave of the future, so by that I mean, are we going to see more and more jobs as legal professionals specifically paralegals, are we going to seem that we’re going to have to have it, are we going to really start being licensed?
And I segue into the licensure aspect as a paralegal because it is becoming a hot topic and as you know and maybe you don’t know, there are way too many people that navigate the court systems as a whole without representation and they typically try to do these things themselves. They do want a simple divorce, they can’t afford a lawyer, they have a simple landlord-tenant dispute, they can’t afford a lawyer. And so they try to do it and navigate the system themselves much to their peril. And so, a lot of different states have started investigating and creating these tasks forces around these programs that provide better access to justice and are creating what are known as these limited license programs. You’ve probably heard me talk about it on prior shows. I know I’ve interviewed individual about the limited practice out there.
Right now, you probably have heard, maybe you haven’t about the Washington State, the Limited License Legal Technician Program, unfortunately Washington had a little bit of a setback in that they had started the program, the LLLT, they actually went through the first round of maybe a couple of different rounds of providing the licensure and then a lot of things happened. I won’t get into the things that happened in Washington State, but they sunseted that particular program, so there’s just a handful of LLLTs that are licensed in the State. But that hasn’t stopped other states from rolling out and investigating these programs and creating these access to justice limited license practitioner programs.
And so, out of this was born the need for really that cost-effective professional to really help individuals navigate the system, the legal system without having to expend a bunch of money and hire a 500 an hour attorney when they could hire someone for a very small limited scope of legal work.
So with that, there are certain states right now that either have implemented it or they are rolling it out as we speak, as this show is being aired or they’re actually in the middle of taskforce. The first is Utah, Utah has what’s known as the Limited Paralegal Practitioner Program, the LPP. It’s governed by the Utah State Bar. That conversation was started in 2015 and they actually went through all the process, got it set up, went through a sandbox type of environment and they now have set their first set of licenses for these LPPs in 2019, 2020, so relatively new. There’s only certain practice areas.
Arizona is one of the newest that is coming online and it’s the Legal Paraprofessional is the title that they have given it. And in Arizona it’s governed by the Supreme Court of the State of Arizona. Initially they had created a task force that dealt with the delivery of legal services, this was created in about 2018 and they investigated having a limited paralegal role in the delivery of limited family, civil, criminal and state administrative law services. They have not licensed anybody yet. The State exam is supposed to come out sometime this spring, so by summer or fall we will have our first round in Arizona of these Legal Paraprofessionals.
California has created a task force also, it’s by the State Bar of California. It’s also looking at investigating limited delivery of legal services. Same with Minnesota, they just created this task force last year in 2020, so they’re really early infant stage of creating a program and just recently, last Tuesday, North Carolina, a presentation was given to the North Carolina State Bar and North Carolina State Supreme Court on access to justice, it’s called the North Carolina Justice For All Project about limiting, a limited licensing activity.
So I would say this to you guys because what all these programs have in common is that most are using certification, a paralegal certification as a stepping stone for the process of obtaining that said license; either it’s a way for grandfathering certain individuals in or it’s a way to determine an education level for a particular individual in order to set for that respective Limited License Program.
So, there’s information out there all over the internet. I highly recommend when you do your own investigation into these respective programs and even if to determine if your respective state has a or is investigating or creating a task force, make sure that you are looking at what I call a reputable source, so a State Bar or a State Supreme Court and reach out to your president of your State Bar Association to determine, hey, do we have in our respective state. I live in Nevada, we don’t have, we have legal document preparers, but we do not have a legal paraprofessional or a paralegal practitioner, Limited Paralegal Practitioner program and I’m surrounded by states that have it or are getting ready to roll it out.
So, I’m sure eventually here in Nevada it too will be looking at investigating, because there is a need for the access to justice in our country. And so, I say all that again to help educate you all that. Having a paralegal certification is a stepping stone overall in order to grow as a legal paraprofessional, no matter what route you want to go, a certification can help you succeed further and move further as a professional.
So I get asked all the time, what about other certifications like an e-discovery certification, should I get one of those too Carl as well as maybe getting my CP through NALA? Well, that’s a great question. If you are working in an area of law that you’re doing a lot of e-discovery, yeah. Again, any certification, any of them actually sets you apart and having even additional what I call layers of certification or allied certifications will help you.
So besides the e-discovery certification and that’s through the Association of E-Discovery Specialists, it’s the CEDS Certification which is a great certification to have. There are other what I call allied legal professional certifications. Have you ever thought about a certified legal manager through the association of legal administrators, the CLM, maybe you’re a paralegal manager, maybe you’re a manager now you’ve transitioned from a supervising paralegal and you’ve been promoted to office administrator and you’ve got your CP Certification, well think about having a Certified Legal Manager designation on your resume. It sets you apart again in growth as a professional.
Maybe you are a paralegal, that does a lot of employment law, maybe investigating having a certification for human resources, so there are professional human resources managers out there and there are different — couple of different human resources associations, one is SHRM, Society for Human Resource Management, and the HRCI, Human Resources Company, Inc. I think I’m totally butchering that one, but they have certifications, through HRCI they have the aPHR or the PHR, which is the — aPHR is the Associate Professional Human Resources Certification or PHR is just Professional Human Resources. And through SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, they have the SHRM-CP Certified Professional.
So, if you’re in employment law and do a lot having that HR certification can set you apart. Project management, maybe you are doing a lot of project management, as paralegals we are project managers right.
So, look at a project manager certification. The PMP, Project Management Professional, sorry. Wow, I should know my designations right. The Project Management Professional PMP through the Project Management Institute will help you if you’re doing a lot of project management. A course NALA offers Advanced Certified Paralegal Programs, there’s ones being rolled out all the time, a new one will be rolled out pretty soon. I’m not going to divulge the respective area of law, but they have discovery certification, which is what my advanced certification is, they have e-discovery as well. Any of the Advanced Certified Paralegals, the ACP program through NALA is a great one.
NALS, the Association for Legal Professionals offers specialty certificates in different areas of law, from family law to office management to — you have to have your professional paralegal designation, but you can also get a specialty certificate through NALS.
And also consider having digital badging. Digital badging is where you go through a program; it could be through community college or university in a respective course or limited exam and you get a what’s called a Digital Badge, and it can be put on your signature block, can be put on a resume, it gives a link to the respective governing body that gives this particular digital badge, but you can do things in ethics, communications, Microsoft softwares, all sorts of different systems. There’s a litany of digital badging, so I just challenge you to Google digital badging and see what programs that are out there. I have digital badges in ethics, paralegal ethics, I have in legal research and writing badging, I have gosh a couple of other respective as it relates to the legal industry, premises liability, I have that one as well.
So, having a digital badging again can help sets you apart from those that don’t have certifications or even digital badging. The goal with any of these what I call allied paraprofessional certification is to demonstrate to an employer and to your peers, that you have that requisite knowledge and experience to be working in these specific areas.
So again, this topic can be a whole three shows, there’s so much information that we can cover on this. So, I want you to hang tight, we’re going to come back. We’ve got another commercial break, so don’t turn that dial we’ll be right back as we break for station identification.
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Carl Morrison: So, you’re probably wondering Carl, hey, wait a minute, you had a question Carl at the beginning of this show and you’ve been talking about certification, paralegal certifications and other certifications, but you never answered the question from the listener. Oh, you’re so right. So, if you’ve been waiting with baited breath for the answer here you go. Here’s my answer to that respective question I got from the listener.
So, remember paralegal soon to be certified asked a couple of different questions, so I’m going to give you some answers. Number one, this individual asked, if you take one CLE course can you apply their credits to all the memberships? I haven’t had any problems using the same CLE for different certifications.
Now, I’m going to put an asterisk and I’m going to ask you if you’re certified or you’re obtaining your certification in more than one organization, paralegal certification mind you, please verify with the respective governing association and their respective requirements in approving those respective CLE certificates.
But for me the NFPA certification accept the NALA CLE, NALA CLE approved programs that I go through, so NFPA has kind of a reciprocal relationship so they will accept NALA’s CLE. My NALS, my PP certification accepts both the NFPA and NALA certifications. NALA typically just accepts their own CLEs or CLEs offered by State Bar or the ABA.
So, with NALA you have to make sure that they will accept others and you may have to get them to approve that respective CLE. And I know there’s a minor cost to that, but I just try to for me, having all three certifications, I just try to aim and get NALA approved CLE, then that way I know it’s accepted by all my certifying bodies. But again, I’m telling you guys to please verify your CLE approval requirements with that respective governing association when you’re doing it. I just know for me, I can apply my CLE accordingly without having to have only NFPA approved, only NALA approved, only NALS approved and go that way.
Second question was, how long did it take you to study for each exam? Well, that’s a different story. I didn’t take each exam one right after the other, so I started with my PP exam over 10 years ago, and because that was my very first certification and I was being tested over 21 different areas of law which I don’t practice, I didn’t practice at that time, admiralty law or tax law or some of these other areas, I spent a solid 12 to 16 weeks ahead of the exam studying and preparing.
My next exam was my RP, I took that one about five years ago. I only took about two months studying for that one and I didn’t need to spend a bunch of time, because there weren’t that many different areas of law that I needed to cover. And then last, I took my CP, and the CP exam I studied about the same amount of time as the RP and for the knowledge portion of the exam and then I passed that and then had to take the written portion or what’s known as the skills portion, and I spent about another month or so preparing for that skills section of the exam.
My advice to you is when you’re studying for an exam work backwards. Figure out when you really want to take it. I want to take the exam six months from now. Okay, we’ll work backwards, how much time do I need to study from the date of the exam. How much time do I need to make sure I got all my transcripts in order and I’ve got my affidavit from my supervised attorney, whatever the case may be, the requirements for taking exam, work backwards from that.
The next question the individual asked was how long did it take you to obtain all of them, did you space them out or accomplished them within a certain time period? Well, collectively it took me 10 years to collect what I call all my peas. That’s what I call my certification all my peas. So, it took me 10 years because I just didn’t take them back to back, I just spaced them out just because I wasn’t in a rush to take them all.
And I also took them all because as a paralegal instructor, teaching in a paralegal program I have students that ask me which test is better, which one should they take, remember I had that question earlier in the show, and for me it was a way to help the students make a more informed decision if they could talk to someone that had actually gone through and sat through those exams. And I just wanted them to know what it was like.
So, in relation also to my listener that wrote the question, I want you to understand and remember don’t give up and don’t feel bummed out. Keep at it, it’s challenging to study for an exam and know that you can do it. I’m saying this to everyone listening to my voice right now, keep at it and know you can do it. 50% of taking any certification exam is mental. You have to believe in yourself and know that you can pass it, and I’m glad that this particular individual is taking a study program to prepare for the exam. Paralegal Education Group or PEG, they’ve now, they have study programs for each of the exams, they just now switched to free. You used to have to buy it, now it’s free. They got all the content right there. So you can do practice exams, so I would highly recommend them as a source for helping you study and also to those that are studying for an exam, if there’s other people in your location that are also taking a certification exam, start a study group, bind up together and help each other go over the terms and concepts to reinforce those areas that you’re struggling in.
Like I said, believe in yourself, know that you can pass it and before you know it, you’re going to look and you’re going to have that certification in your hand, you’re going to mount it on the wall in a beautiful frame and you’re going to be so proud of yourself and I’m going to be proud of you for doing it.
To my listener that wrote the question and to those, if you’re studying for an exam right now, keep me posted on when you do pass the exam. I’m cheering you all on, and I’m cheering all soon to be certified paralegals on to success. So, congratulations to those that are doing it and if you’ve studied for exam and you didn’t pass it the first time, that’s okay, keep at it, I know you can do it.
And that’s all the time we have for today on The Paralegal Voice. If you have any questions about today’s show, of course, always feel free to email me at [email protected], that’s [email protected], and stay tuned for more information in upcoming podcasts for exciting paralegal trends, news and engaging and fun interviews from leading paralegals and other leading legal professionals.
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