MPA News Update – December 2018

Certification as a Trend with Prospective Employers

By Mandy Chapman, RP

Recently, a creditor’s right/bankruptcy firm in St. Louis advertised an opening for an experienced Paralegal. Like most job placement advertisements, it indicated the required and the preferred qualifications of the ideal candidate. The language that stood out the most was that this posting specifically wanted a “certified” paralegal. In particular, this employer understood the difference between “certified” and a person with a “certificate.” 

Paralegal certifications

The debate surrounding the definition of a “Certified” paralegal has been around for at least a decade. Many paralegals obtain a certificate of completion when they finish a paralegal program at a college or university. Obtaining a certificate does not indicate that an individual is “Certified.” 

Here are the varying paths that individuals typically take to be identified as a paralegal: 

  • Experience. In the era before widely-available formalized paralegal education programs, paralegals received on-the-job training from attorneys who supervised their work closely. Many paralegals in today’s industry have been “grandfathered” into the title “Paralegal” due to their decades of experience. 
  • Bachelor’s Degree/Education and Certificate. For the past 20 years or so, paralegals have discovered that the vast majority of employers desire their employees and prospects to possess a Bachelor’s degree in any subject matter (unrelated to the law or business), as well as a Certificate from a paralegal education program. These Certificates indicate that an individual has successfully completed the requirements of that program and there is no universally-accepted set of requirements for what that includes. Most Certificate (or “diploma”) programs offer basic legal classes (research, writing, legal system, foundations of the law, and electives based upon chosen areas of the law). Typically, the employers that seek this category of candidate include large law firms, corporations, many federal positions, and defense firms. These requirements are often dictated by the clients of the employers and thus are necessary. 
  • Relevant Associate’s Degree/Education and Experience. Some employers only require an associate’s degree in legal studies, plus experience performing substantive legal tasks as a paralegal. The experience requirements with the relevant Associate’s Degree is often 3-5 years. Typically, these employers are smaller firms, plaintiff’s firms, local government, or small businesses. They are able to afford greater flexibility with the educational requirements, as they usually do not have to have their staff credentialed with any of their clients/those they service. 
  • Other. There are infinite possibilities of additional requirements, but these requirements will not qualify an individual for any certifications through a professional association, and severely limit career advancement opportunities. 

What was interesting about the recent job posting for the bankruptcy firm in St. Louis was that they specifically requested the candidate possess “A Bachelor’s degree in paralegals studies with successful completion of certification by NALA is strongly preferred; Associate’s degree required….” 

NALA and NFPA are the two professional organizations that offer true “certification” credentials that are widely acknowledged and accepted throughout the legal industry. There is no federal or Missouri-state level certification. Missouri paralegals choose between NFPA’s PACE program, earning them the RP (Registered Paralegal) designation or NALA’s Certified Paralegal program, earning them the CP (Certified Paralegal) designation. These are the only two mainstream “certificate” programs. Therefore, unless a paralegal has earned (and maintains) the RP or CP designation, they are not “Certified.” A mere “Certificate of Completion” through a paralegal program (online or on-campus) does not entitle one to claim they are a “certified” paralegal. 

It is my opinion that the trend in the industry will be to require paralegals to have a) a Bachelor’s degree in any field, b) a certificate from a paralegal program of study, and c) designation as an RP or CP through NFPA or NALA. Of course, those paralegals who have been “Grandfathered” into the industry will maintain that ability to continue to utilize their title as a Paralegal. 

To summarize, 

Newer Paralegals and Students: Complete your Bachelor’s degree, then obtain a paralegal certificate (ABA approved certificate programs are preferred, but not necessary). After a few years of substantive legal work as a paralegal, study for and take the necessary test through an organization such as NFPA to obtain your designation and show prospective employers your knowledge has been tested and you maintain adequate CLE’s each year to retain the designation. 

Experienced Paralegals: If you don’t already have a paralegal certificate, obtain one. It furthers your legal knowledge in a formal environment and may freshen your skill set. Additionally, some insurance defense clients and corporate customers require that a paralegal certificate program be completed by any person working on their files. I also advocate the taking of the PACE exam through NFPA. Paralegals should never stop learning. The RP designation through NFPA indicates that the paralegal is a) experienced – this is a requirement to sit for the exam, b) knowledgeable – they have passed the formal test, and c) they have dedicated themselves to a minimum standard of CLE’s each year to further their education and stay current with the latest legal trends. 

If you see other job postings in Missouri that specifically request a “Certified” (through NFPA or NALA) paralegal is preferred, please consider sending them to me, so we can further monitor this trend across our state. 

Happy Hunting! 

T’was the night before trial . . .

Twas the night before trial, when all through the firm 
Not a creature was stirring, not even a germ 
The exhibits were piled on the table with care 
In hopes that the paralegal would soon be there.

The partners were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of a large verdict danced in their heads
And the trial lawyer in his office 
And I in mine too 
Munched on stale food and drink 
Maybe some breathe mints too 

When out in the lobby there arose such  a clatter
I sprang from my desk to see what was the matter.
Away to the front office I flew like a flash
Threw open the door and continued to dash 

The lobby seemed empty – no one in sight
I couldn’t find anyone – try as I might.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear 
But a courier  – arriving by reindeer.

The courier was older, but lively and quick 
He seemed alert enough – but looked a bit sick.
His eyes – how they twinkled.  His dimples how merry 
His cheeks were like roses – but really, not very.

His droll little mouth smelled somewhat of gin,
And the beard of his chin needed a trim. 
The courier satchel he held tight in his hand 
Cause if he lost it, he would get canned. 

He had a broad face – and quite a belly 
That shook a lot.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old guy 
And I laughed when I saw him until I caught his eye.

A wink of his eye and twist of his wrist
Soon gave me to know, a settlement offer was the gist.
He spoke not a word but went straight to his work 
And laid the papers on the desk – then turned with a jerk 
And placing his finger aside his company logo 
Giving a nod, out the door he go goes.

He sprung to his scooter, to his team gave an new address 
And away they all flew – using Google Maps  –  I confess.

But I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of sight, 
Merry Christmas to all – go home and sleep tight!

© Debbie Wells, Paralegal
Buchanan County Prosecutor
411 Jules
St. Joseph, MO 64501

Get Fresh!

Keep that Resumé Updated!

By Mandy Chapman, RP

Whether you are considering changing employers or not, it is always a good idea to keep your resume/CV updated and fresh. Here are a few scenarios in which an updated resume could come in handy: 

  • Networking Online – Finding others with similar skills sets or specialties. 
  • Speaking/Presentation Engagements – The organizers of the engagement will require an updated bio. 
  • Requests for Proposals at your firm/company – Oftentimes as our employers seek new business, they are required, or choose, to include the resume/CV of the employees that would be primarily responsible for working on that new business.
  • Honors/Awards – If you are to be introduced as an award nominee or recipient, providing the person that introduces you with an updated resume will give them valuable information and make their duties much easier. 

If you have not looked at your resume in a few years, here are a few tips to get you started: 

  • Old Employers – Unless your resume is maintained only for purposes other than job-seeking, only the last 10-15 years of employment are necessary. If you were a substitute school teacher or on other unrelated career paths in the past, it is no longer necessary to continue to list these old employers. 
  • New Certifications – Have you passed the NFPA or NALA exam and obtained the RP or CP designation? Did you obtain a real estate license, a notary public credential, Legal Project Management certification, relevant military designation/training, or any other skills and qualifications that could be relevant to your field/area of law? 
  • New Skills – Are you now an expert with using specialized software such as Relativity, TrialDirector, Clio, or Sanction? Did you complete any advanced courses in programs such as Excel, PowerPoint, Word or WordPerfect? 
  • Old Skills – Sometimes, we are very good at things we overlook as being “skills” and forget to include characteristics that set us apart from others in the field. Are you advanced in calming witnesses or victims, taking recorded statements, or handling difficult clients? Are you able to locate assets, Shepardize, or prepare removals like no other? List these skills!
  • Honors/Awards – Even if it is not related directly to the legal profession, are you the recent recipient of any new honors/awards that should be added to your resume? Perhaps you were the Scouting Volunteer of the Year, or served as the Secretary for the local Lions Club. Or perhaps you were acknowledged at your children’s school for phenomenal book club/library efforts? Be conscientious about the types of outside organizations which you identify on your resume. Volunteering for or awards from political, religious, or lobbyist groups may provide more information about your personal life than you may be willing to provide. 

Consider adding an annual appointment to your calendar as a recurring appointment so you look at your resume and freshen it up every 6-12 months. It is much easier to prepare a few edits than reinvent the wheel on the fly if you are asked to present your resume under a tight deadline. Keep it fresh!