In the working environment, professional certification is a time honored process respected by both employers and those within the career field. The following is a definition used by many to describe professional certification:
Professional certification is a voluntary process by which a nongovernmental entity grants a time-limited recognition to an individual after verifying that the individual has met predetermined, standardized criteria. (Source: Rops, Mickie S., CAE, Understanding the Language of Credentialing, American Society of Association Executives, May 2002.)
The definition hits the high points. Certification is voluntary, not imposed by government. It is time limited, which means that those with the certification must fulfill ongoing educational requirements to keep the certification current, and the criteria for certification is recognized in the community. Keep these aspects in mind as you read more about the CP program.
The NALA Certifying Board for Paralegals is responsible for content, standards and administration of the Certified Paralegal Program. It is composed of paralegals who have received an Advanced Paralegal Certification designation, attorneys and paralegal educators.
In the technical areas of statistical analyses, examination construction, reliability and validity tests, the Board contracts with a professional consulting firm offering expertise in these areas as well as in occupational research. Technical analyses of the Certified Paralegal examination are conducted on an ongoing basis to ensure the integrity of the examination. Content analyses of the test design, accuracy of questions, and topic/subject mix for each exam section are ongoing processes of the Certifying Board. The Board also utilizes the occupational data available through surveys of paralegals and other means, including review of textbooks and research within the field of paralegal education. Through these analyses and procedures, the Board is assured that the examination reflects and responds to work-place realities and demands.
Background and Numbers
Established in 1976, the Certified Paralegal (then known as the CLA - Certified Legal Assistant) program has enabled the profession to develop a strong and responsive self-regulatory program offering a nationwide credential for legal assistants. The Certified Paralegal program establishes and serves as a:
Credentialing program responsive to the needs of paralegals and responsive to the fact that this form of self-regulation is necessary to strengthen and expand development of this career field.
Positive, ongoing, voluntary program to encourage the growth of the paralegal profession, attesting to and encouraging a high level of achievement.
As of November 2013, there are over 17,711 Certified Paralegals and over 3000 Advanced Certified Paralegals in the United States. Over 26,000 paralegals have participated in this program. Click here to see the distribution of Certified Paralegals across the United States. For the distribution of Advanced Certified Paralegals click here. The growth of these programs is impressive.
The Certified Paralegal Credential
Use of the CP credential signifies that a paralegal is capable of providing superior services to firms and corporations. National surveys consistently show Certified Paralegals are better utilized in a field where attorneys are looking for a credible, dependable way to measure ability. The credential has been recognized by the American Bar Association as a designation which marks a high level of professional achievement. The CLA or CP credential has also been recognized by over 47 legal assistant organizations and numerous bar associations.
For information concerning standards of professional credentialing programs, you may want to see the article: The Certified Legal Assistant Program and the United States Supreme Court Decision in Peel v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Committee of Illinois In this case, the United States Supreme Court addressed the issue concerning the utilization of professional credentials awarded by private organizations. In Peel v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Committee of Illinois, 110 S.Ct. 2281 (1990), the Court suggested that a claim of certification is truthful and not misleading if it meets certain standards. This article details those standards in terms of the standards of the NALA Certified Paralegal Program.
Is it CLA or CP?
The terms "legal assistant" and "paralegal" are synonymous terms. The terms are defined as such throughout the United States in state supreme court rules, statutes, ethical opinions, bar association guidelines and other similar documents. These are the same documents which provide recognition of the paralegal profession and encourage the use of paralegals in the delivery of legal services.
NALA has become increasingly aware that while the terms are defined as identifying the same professional, a preference in terms is emerging. Different geographic areas use one term more than another. For this reason, NALA filed for a certification mark "CP" with the US Patent and Trademark Office. The certification mark was successfully registered on July 20, 2004.
Those who are admitted to the Certified Paralegal program today and successfully complete the examination are awarded a "Certified Paralegal" certificate and may use the credential "CP." Those who renew their certification are also awarded the "Certified Paralegal" certificate and encouraged to use the credential "CP." However, some with this certification continue to use the credential, "CLA".
CLA is a certification mark duly registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (No. 113199). CP (design) is a certification duly registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (No. 78213275). Any unauthorized use of these credentials is strictly forbidden.
Am I a Certified Paralegal?
Occasionally, paralegals call themselves "certified" by virtue of completing a paralegal training course, or another type of preparatory education. Although a school may award a certificate of completion, this is not the same as earning professional certification by an entity such as NALA. In this instance the school's certificate is designation of completion of a training program.
The pages in this section provide detailed information for certification examinees and for those who are already certified. Read on to learn more about this important program.