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All Paralegals Should Know About Credentials

All Paralegals Should Know About Credentials

Credentialing in the paralegal profession is still a fairly new idea, and one that can be implemented by numerous organizations. While no single paralegal certification is universally recognized as the best (though the National Association of Legal Assistants’, or NALA, is the most prominent), they do provide a means by which an employer can ascertain an employee’s potential viability based on their knowledge and capability.

Almost any organization that trains paralegals or legal assistants offers some credentials that the paralegal has achieved a certain level of knowledge in their field (especially with that credential takes the form of an associates or bachelors degree).  

Where the acquiring of credentials become beneficial is when the prospective paralegal has no actual degree in the field, then passing a certification exam can become vital to establishing to an employer that the applicant has a certain degree of knowledge in the field.

While certification exams or means of credentialing may vary, they can generally be held to adhere to a certain level of content, with many requiring some kind of preexisting proof of having made it through an accredited paralegal training program.  

Commonly these will then be combined with a comprehensive testing of basic legal knowledge that a paralegal will be required to call on during the course of their work.  nearly all certification exams is a comprehensive overview of ethical protocols that are required by any participant in the legal profession, especially as it comes to issues of disclosure and conflicts of interest.

It is important to note, however, that since paralegals are often unregulated and unlicensed, that certification is not required, and paralegals are hired on other merits and trained on the job without any prior experience in the paralegal profession.  

Occasionally, higher end paralegal positions will ask for some form of credentials or certification based on the more precise needs of the job, but it is fairly rare that they will specialize a particular form of certification. 

Why Do Paralegals Have Licensing Credentials?

Why Do Paralegals Have Licensing Credentials?

Licensing is a concept that is still fairly foreign in the paralegal profession, with the only state so far requiring full scale paralegal licensing is California, which is mainly in place to regulate Legal Document Assistants.  Whether this should be the case or whether licensing should be enacted remains a pertinent source of debate amongst the legal profession.

Essentially, it must be understood that the rise in paralegals in the 1970s was in response to lawyers being overburdened with substantive legal tasks, such as research, analysis, filing, and many other assorted task that lawyer, were, in essence, too well paid to do.  

The results were beneficial to both sides, as the legal industry, which expanding at a significant rate, was able to control costs by delegating the new and growing work loan to paralegals, who were paid well, but far below the amounts that a typical attorney could bill for his or her services.

The paralegal profession exploded, and continues to grow at significant rate, because the profession often did not require substantial training or education.certification from voluntary organizations, anyone could become a paralegal provided they could be hired to be one. 

However, what this has led to is an inconsistency in the ways in which paralegals have been classifiable, and the nature of activities undertaken by members could be radically different from position to position, even within the same firm or organization.  

Therefore, many states, short of licensing paralegals, began to set guidelines and mandates that described paralegals in reductive terms, typically in ways that specified which powers of attorney that paralegals were not allowed to assume. 

In many regards, the lack of regulation of paralegals has actually been relatively effective, as it has not led to an increase in legal abuses, according to most bar associations.  

Some also feel that providing licensing and regulation will result in greater specification of the tasks and jobs that paralegals can perform, thus entitling them to an increased rate of compensation, one more commiserate with lawyers (many paralegals and paralegal organizations remain divided on this particular idea).

The key factor that will likely continue to inform this debate is the relative need for education required by paralegals going forward.  However, given the important part paralegals play in the modern legal profession, and given how vital the rule of law is the organization of any society, there are some who consider the open and deregulated nature of the paralegal industry an ethical breach in and of itself, even a potential disaster waiting to happen. 

Being a Paralegal With Attorney Supervision

Being a Paralegal With Attorney Supervision

Since paralegals are often unlicensed, and thus unregulated, they are usually defined in somewhat reductive terms, mainly in the means by which their actions in the legal industry are restrained and restricted.  

The central belief behind this mandate is that attorneys are licensed, having passed a local bar exam, and are ultimately responsible for the strategy implemented that directs paralegals.

The level of attorney supervision is something that plays a key part in the debate over whether paralegals should be licensed or not.    Those who support this argument feel that paralegals are, by design, directed with helping lawyers, and that by licensing them they could  

Those who are for supervision, argue that providing limited legal services, especially at a level regulated by some form of government oversight, could provide legal service to lower income groups who were previous restricted access to them in the past.

However, it remains that many in the paralegal industry do not desire licensing on two grounds.license, and then maintaining and renewing it over an extended period of time.  

The second idea is that paralegal licensing and regulation could limit the amount of available paralegals, as it could increase salary amounts to the point where positions eventually are priced out of the market, and the amount of paralegal positions can decrease (conversely, those on the other side of the argument point to the potential for increased compensation as a reason for licensing).  

The closest thing to actual licensing in most areas of the paralegal industry right now, is third party certification, which is provided by a number of organizations, including the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the American Alliance of Paralegals (AAP), and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA).  

 However, in order, to take these exams or even study for them requires, in most cases, an extended period of paralegal employment under the direct supervision of an attorney.  

On the whole, the paralegal market and the legal profession place great deal of value on attorney supervision as a means of maintaining market growth, as well as maintaining the economic balance and division of power needed for the legal profession to remain strong and viable.


 

Can Paralegals Work Without Attorney Supervision?

Can Paralegals Work Without Attorney Supervision?

Since paralegals are often unlicensed, and thus unregulated, they are usually defined in somewhat reductive terms, mainly in the means by which their actions in the legal industry are restrained and restricted.  

The central belief behind this mandate is that attorneys are licensed, having passed a local bar exam, and are ultimately responsible for the strategy implemented that directs paralegals, and who must ultimately place their name on any work completed by a paralegal, thus giving them a level of ownership by oversight.

However, there are jurisdictions where paralegals have historically been allowed to practice outside of an attorney’s supervision, usually in the role of aiding in document preparation.  

Very few jurisdictions have gone on to license independent paralegals, with California being the main example in its licensing of Legal Document Assistants, who are allowed to operate outside to an attorney’s purview only after they have undergone legal training and been certified and bonded by the state.

The desire for some paralegals and paralegal representative organizations to operate outside the supervision of an attorney has played a core role in the debate of whether there should be widespread licensing of paralegals.  

An argument for this is that licensing can do a far better job regulating the standard of paralegals entering into the industry, allowing this improved standard of paralegal services to be able to operate more autonomously.

A direct advantage of removing attorney supervision, is that those that are for licensing and against mandated attorney supervision, is that it can open up the level of legal care available to lower class, lower income parties.  

The belief that licensing can provide paralegals with greater autonomy to provide legal services directly to consumers and clients who were otherwise restricted access to them on economic grounds.  Therefore, the central idea is that licensing paralegals on a more widespread basis could benefit the standards and availability of the law.

The argument against licensing in place of a mandated supervision is predicated on the belief that the origins of the paralegal profession were based on supplementing, not supplanting, the work of attorneys, and their their role in the legal system.  To them, licensing represents a means of regulating the overall quality of legal work, and to that end, it remains vital that paralegals remain under attorney supervision.