As you jumpstart a career as a paralegal, there are specific steps you will need to take to be ready for the workforce.
You must pass a class and training to get a paralegal certificate.
From there, you can sit for a certification exam after you complete paralegal training from an accredited school or program.
Find out how long you will need to spend to get a paralegal certificate in your state from start to finish.
What Are the Steps to Earn a Paralegal Certificate?
Your journey to be a successful paralegal requires a paralegal certificate.
A certificate is a document you receive after achieving a minimum success score in a course on paralegal studies.
Start taking a class at a college or online to become a paralegal.
When you complete the course, you should have a paralegal certificate to print out and share with your employer.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Paralegal Certificate?
The typical timeframe for completing a course and earning a paralegal certificate is one year or 12 months.
Some paralegal training programs are shorter and take only ten months, while other programs take longer time to complete successfully.
In addition, if you do not have experience in law, you may take longer to finish with a paralegal certificate.
What is the Difference Between a Paralegal Certificate and a Certification?
If you earn a paralegal certificate in paralegal studies or a similar subject, you have what you need for entry-level employment.
A paralegal certificate is a document stating you have successfully taken and completed a course on paralegal training.
As for certification as a paralegal, this goes a step further than getting a paralegal certificate.
Once you have graduated from a school or completed a course in paralegal studies, you are ready to sit for a board exam.
This is what we call getting certification.
You must pass an exam and other prerequisites to get certified with the board that hosts the test.
There are several paralegal certification boards that you can “sit” for, including:
- National Association for Legal Assistants (NALA) and Paralegals
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
The board certification exams that lead to certificates include:
- Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) by the NFPA
- Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCE) by the NFPA
- Certified Paralegal (CP) exam by the NALA
What are the Prerequisites to Sit for Paralegal Certificate Boards?
To be able to take one of these exams or other paralegal certification exams, which is referred to as sitting for boards, you need to follow specific prerequisites.
Generally, these include:
- Completion of paralegal training and course
- Associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in a related field
- Minimum years of work experience as a paralegal
The last area is where you will spend the most time waiting to get certified.
Some boards, such as the National Association for Legal Assistants CP exam, require at least seven years of paralegal experience.
Do I Need to Have a Certificate to Work as a Paralegal?
Yes, you must have a paralegal certificate to get a job as a paralegal anywhere in the US.
With official training from an American Bar Association (ABA) school, you will have the experience, skills, and basic understanding of what to do as a paralegal.
In addition, most lawyers, firms, and courthouses will only be able to let you train or hire you with proper work credentials.
Going through paralegal training in a formal setting, resulting in a certificate, is the ideal route to take to become a paralegal.
However, as of 2023, you do not have to be certified as a paralegal to work as a paralegal in a law firm, courthouse, etc.
This is applicable across the US and in all US states.
Yet you may find it challenging to advance your career as a paralegal if you do not seek certification at some point.
How Many Years of Paralegal Experience Needed for Certification?
Once you have your certificate as a paralegal, you will spend more time working toward certification as a paralegal.
Certification is an examination process that ensures you are wholly inept at a subject, in this case, paralegal studies.
Each board exam differs in how long you need to work as a paralegal to be eligible to sit for that particular test.
The PACE exam requires students to have a minimum:
- Two years of paralegal work experience if you have a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or a minor in paralegal studies
- Three years of paralegal work if you have a bachelor’s that is not in paralegal studies
- Six years of work experience if you have an associate’s degree in paralegal studies
- Seven years of experience with an associate’s degree not in paralegal studies
In addition, if you are in the military, you will be in a different time frame than non-military students.
Your military experience in paralegal studies applies to the work experience in most cases.
Therefore, you can expect to spend up to four years getting a paralegal degree and two years of work to sit for a certification exam.
The entire process could take up to eight years for students without a college degree.
As a paralegal student in training, earning a paralegal certificate is the fastest way to get hired full-time.
The timeline for earning a paralegal certificate is approximately 10 to 12 months.
Most students in a certificate program complete the coursework in a self-paced manner.
This can speed up the timing of completion per the individual student.
A paralegal certificate and certification are two different aspects of the training environment.
You need a paralegal certificate before you can be eligible for a certification exam.
You cannot get certification as a paralegal to work.
This type of examination requires at least two to seven years of working experience as a paralegal.