Should Attorneys Be Concerned with Paralegal Certification?

More than ever before, your clients are demanding lower-cost, yet high-value legal services, which is exactly why you should be concerned with the certifications of the paralegals you work with.  Whether you are are a solo or in a large firm; employ one paralegal or one hundred paralegals;  occasionally contract with  freelance paralegals or use them daily; you need to be concerned with paralegal certification.  Here’s why:

(note: Certification refers to meeting the criteria of a recongized certifying organization such as NALA, NFPA, NALS or a state bar, NOT merely holding a certificate from a paralegal program.)

Your clients want to know they are getting what they pay for.

In this new legal environment, clients  scrutinize  their legal bills to make sure there is value given for every dollar they spend.  When they see a paralegal’s time billed at $90 to $250 dollars an hour, they want to be assured that  the paralegal is skilled and competent.  Certification allows a consistent and legitimate standard for billing.  I believe state bar associations that have taken on paralegal certification offer an excellent reassurance of paralegal competency to clients because clients are already familiar with  the state bar  and its standards for attorneys.

Your clients view website bios more than any other pages.

Many law firms now include  paralegals on their website menu of firm bios.  I believe this is a smart move because your clients and potential clients are reading those bios more than anything else on your site.  It instills confidence in your clients and potential clients when your paralegals have credentials from independent certifying organizations.  Your clients may have more direct contact with your paralegal than you; it is essential that they trust the paralegal.

Your clients want top-notch paralegals working on their matter.

You want the best staff possible to support your practice; so do your clients.  When you hire a new paralegal or contract with a freelance or virtual paralegal, certifications and credentials can serve as a pre-qualifier for core competencies. Paralegals who voluntary seek certification are generally very serious about their careers.  They are more likely to attend CLE’s and stay up to date in their field to maintain their certification.   This is the type of professional your clients want to work with.

There are thousands of excellent paralegals in the field who have chosen not to obtain any of the credentials offered by the national associations or state bars.  I held a paralegal certificate from an ABA-approved school for 18 years before deciding to take the Certified Paralegal exam offered by NALA. For now, it is a choice for each paralegal to make.

Attorneys should choose to pay attention to paralegal certifications because their clients will appreciate it.

Photo: from seattleclouds.com

15 Responses to Should Attorneys Be Concerned with Paralegal Certification?
  1. Practical Paralegalism
    September 29, 2011 | 4:05 pm

    Terrific post, Misty. I always feel lucky to live in North Carolina, with its State Bar Paralegal Certification program. Many NC lawyers recognize the certification and require it for job applicants.

    On a personal note, I believe anyone that’s passed one of the voluntary national paralegal certification exams is really, really, really smart!

  2. Misty Sheffield
    September 29, 2011 | 5:10 pm

    Thank you Lynne. I would love to see more state bar associations follow in the footsteps of those that have adopted voluntary paralegal certification. I think it is good for the paralegal profession, attorneys and clients. Win-win-win. BTW, YOU are really, really, really smart!

  3. Linda McGrath-Cruz
    November 30, 2011 | 11:47 am

    A great article! I think this is a really critical way for paralegals to raise the bar on their own without mandatory licensure. I am an ACP through NALA and also registered with the Florida Bar. I think this speaks volumes about my dedication to my chosen career. In 2010 I changed jobs after 14 years with the same firm, I found my certification status to be of great interest to potential employers and a big plus in the job search. I’m very happy to work with a firm that values their paralegals AND recognizes their level of professionalism.

  4. Misty Sheffield
    November 30, 2011 | 1:42 pm

    Hi Linda, Congratulations on earning your ACP! I am glad to hear that your certification set you apart in the marketplace. This should encourage other paralegals to pursue quality certification.

  5. Karen George, FRP
    December 1, 2011 | 2:36 am

    Misty, great article.

  6. […] web hosting; web design; office equipment; office furniture; phone system; office supplies; paralegal certification; CLE; paralegal association fees; marketing costs; business cards; letter head; technical support; […]

  7. Lynn Adams Buckley
    December 12, 2011 | 10:59 am

    I saw this coming here in Florida about ten years ago when the silk stocking firms started accepting certified paralegals in lieu of have a bachelor’s degree (in anything). Now you can boost your earnings and negotiate better salaries with your certificate in hand. I’m out on disability now, hoping to return to work. Love, love, love securities litigation and arbitration. I still keep my thumb in things by helping out occasionally at my old firm. I loved the traveling all over the country to meet with clients. And you’re so right, they DO ask about your qualifications. I would always tease that I started out working for the dark side (Respondent work) until I saw the error of my ways and joined Jeff Coleman when he hung out his shingle in 1998. I miss it sooo much.

    Good luck to you.

    Lynn Adams Buckley, CP

    • Misty Sheffield
      December 12, 2011 | 11:16 am

      Hi Lynn, I hope you can return to your career soon. It is great that you have found an area of law you enjoy so much. I have heard the paralegal market in Florida is extremely competitive so you are smart to have your CP. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Dana Welcker, ACP, FRP
    December 12, 2011 | 11:57 am

    I too have to compliment you on the great article! My certifications have made it much easier to stand apart from other applicants when I have changed jobs. I encourage every paralegal to get certified through a national certifiying group such as NALA! It is well worth the time studying and you can take it anywhere in the country.

    • Misty Sheffield
      December 12, 2011 | 12:12 pm

      Thanks for commenting Dana. I believe certification will become increasingly more important to career paralegals. Law firms are recognizing the value of having credentialed paralegals as the legal market place becomes more competitive. Keep encouraging others to seek certification and congratulations on your ACP and FRP!

  9. Jamie C.
    December 12, 2011 | 10:41 pm

    Misty,

    Thank you for yet another terrific post. I really enjoy your writing style and the way you bring issues to the forefront of our legal minds with your posts. Keep you the fantastic blogging! ~ Jamie

    • Misty Sheffield
      December 12, 2011 | 11:02 pm

      Hi Jamie,
      Thank you. That means a lot coming from one of my favorite bloggers!

  10. Taye Akinola
    December 13, 2011 | 12:53 am

    What a great article! This solidify my intention of getting my CRP from NFPA after I complete my paralegal studies program in May 2012.

    Thank you!

    • Misty Sheffield
      December 13, 2011 | 3:18 pm

      Go for it Taye! I am glad that NFPA has added the CRP exam. I would take the exam soon after finishing your program. Best of luck!

  11. […] using the title “ABA-Certified.”  I am a big proponent of paralegals obtaining certifications through state bar associations and the major national paralegal associations.  If the American Bar […]

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About
Misty L. Sheffield is a freelance paralegal helping solos and small law firms in civil litigation. She has been assisting attorneys for over 12 years. Read More »