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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.”
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:
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.
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.
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
St. Joseph, MO 64501
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:
If you have not looked at your resume in a few years, here are a few tips to get you started:
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!