What is a Paralegal?
A paralegal, in the majority of jurisdictions, is a term used to describe an individual who assists legal professionals, most commonly qualified lawyers, in their day to day legal work. In the United States, paralegals are not authorized by a government body or governmental agency to offer legal services nor are they subject to the government or court sanctioned rules of conduct.
In the United States a paralegal is, in essence, a lawyer’s assistant; a paralegal works under the direct supervision of their coordinating legal professional; the paralegal will provide administrative assistance to streamline the attorney’s day-to-day work.
In the United States, a paralegal cannot set fees, give legal advice, appear as counsel of record in court or sign pleadings (and other legal or court documents) in a representative fashion. If a paralegal attempts to fulfill any of these roles, which are distinctly reserved for an attorney, they will be in direct violation of the unauthorized practice of law statutes that are present in the majority of states in America.
That being said, paralegals are found in all areas of law within the United States; a paralegal can aid a lawyer working in a criminal trial, the family court of law, real estate, estate planning, government positions or civil matters.
Paralegal Certification: How do I become a Paralegal?
The American Bar Association defines paralegal certification as a “formal process by which a non-governmental agency or association grants recognition to an individual who has met certain predetermined qualifications specified by that agency or association.” Paralegal certification typically involves passing a certified examination established by the sponsoring organization and meeting various educational and experiential requirements.
Currently, paralegal certification is a voluntary procedure; there exists no mandatory examination for legal assistants to assume such roles in the United States. That being said, paralegal certification is a subject of considerable interest among the various paralegal organizations, state legislatures and state bar associations.
Paralegal certification demonstrates to employers, such as government agencies or law firms, a commitment to the profession and a mastery of a distinct skill set and knowledge to complete the various tasks required in the field. These skills and knowledge are tested in various paralegal certification examinations; such testing will inspect an individual’s knowledge over legal procedure, writing skills, communication abilities, ethics, as well as research abilities.
The majority of paralegals, in the United States, will obtain professional designations once they have gained a few years’ experience in the legal field. As stated before, certification is not a prerequisite for paralegal employment; however, it will enhance the individual’s professional credibility, income potential and employment prospects.
Paralegal certification may incorporate a variety of examinations, issued by legal organizations throughout the United States. For instance, the National Association of Legal Assistants is a sponsoring agency which issues certification examinations. To become eligible for paralegal certification within the National Association of Legal Assistants an individual must graduate from a legal assistant program that is approved by the American bar Association, obtain a bachelor’s degree in any field plus obtain one year’s experience as a legal assistant.
The examination itself is a two-day comprehensive test based on federal law and procedure; the primary subject areas of this particular paralegal certification test are Ethics, Legal Research, Communications, Interviewing Techniques, Human Relations, Legal Terminology and Judgment & Analytical Ability.