Megan M. has contacted me asking:
I’ve recently read several posts on your blog site, and was wondering if you could provide your thoughts on the following subject:
For a recent graduate from a Bachelor’s program in Paralegal Studies (ABA Approved program), do you believe it would be more beneficial for said student to next pursue NALA certification or instead pursue a Master’s degree in Paralegal Studies?
The current economy has created a limited number of jobs, and I wonder which “add-on” would help distinguish a Paralegal in a large pool of candidates?
Your thoughts would be appreciated, either directly or via your blog.
I would like to hear from practicing paralegals before giving a final answer on this as they are more likely to have relevant data on this than an academic, even one who practiced law for three decades. However, my initial thought is “it depends.”
Certifications such as CP or CLA by NALA, PACE Registered Paralegal by NFPA, and PP (Professional Paralegal) by NALS are less expensive and faster to obtain than a Master’s, so they are more likely to “add-on” to your marketability in the economy as it exists now. No one knows what the economy will be like by the time you finish a Master’s.
However, unfortunately there is a great deal of confusion among the Bar over what these certifications mean. Although the ABA has recognized these certifications, many attorneys have not yet become knowledegable about them. As I pointed out in a previous post, many attorneys are confused as to exactly what a paralegal is and can do in general. The present status of paralegal education is no less confusing to many attorneys. What is the difference, in terms of the work the paralegal can perform between a paralegal certificate, an associates degree in paralegal studies and a bachelors degree in paralegal studies? What does it mean to be certified? Is being certified the same as having a certificate? Who does the certification?
Certificates of completion of a paralegal program can mean nothing more than that a person completed a few courses, but they are often confused with a person being a “Certified Paralegal.” As NALA points out,
Occasionally, paralegals call themselves “certified” by virtue of completing a paralegal training course, or another type of preparatory education. Although a school may award a certificate of completion, this is not the same as earning professional certification by an entity such as NALA. In this instance the school’s certificate is designation of completion of a training program.
Most attorneys, on the other hand, are familiar with Master’s Degrees and are impressed by them, so a Master of Paralegal Studies may draw more attention to your resume than a CP or PACE Registered Paralegal designation. Also, you are likely to be able to obtain the CP or PACE Registered Paralegal designation fairly easily by the time you complete the Masters simply because you will have mastered the material necessary to take the exams and thus have both “add-ons.”
Your state or local paralegal association may be able to give you information regarding the prevalence of CP, PACE RP, or PP paralegals in the area and the general awareness among the local bar of their significance. You may also check websites for law offices that list their paralegal staff and see how many have the CP, PACE RP, or PP designation. A firm with several CPs is more likely to recognize the value of the certification. In general the more sophisticate the attorneys in your area are, the more likely they are to understand the significance of NALA, NFPA or NALS certification
By the way, there are advanced certifications for specific areas over and above the general CP certification. NALA, for example, offers Advanced Paralegal Certification in a number of competencies. There is also a new organization, The Organization of Legal Professionals, which is developing certification in e-discovery. (More on the latter, later.)
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