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Paralegal Continuing Education

Paralegal Continuing Education

A Quick Guide to Paralegal Continuing Education

Paralegals are not required by law to participate in paralegal continuing education programs, but certification organizations and an increasingly competitive legal industry make it a wise decision. Often overlooked, the position of paralegal is an important and necessary part of the law profession; over 120,000 paralegals assist over 1 million lawyers everyday in the United States.

It is not necessary for paralegals to hold a license to practice because they work under the guidance of a lawyer. But paralegals will find it beneficial to take advantage of paralegal continuing education (CE) programs to stay focused in an increasingly popular field. If a paralegal wants to achieve Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) certification, he or she is required to take CE courses.

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Certification through the CLA exam is voluntary. This self-regulating program provides a national standard of quality and promotes learning through paralegal continuing education programs. Paralegals must achieve a certain number of CE 'contact hours' to maintain their certification. CLA certification requires paralegals to participate in at least 50 contact hours of CE within a five year time period, and one 'contact hour' is considered 50 minutes of educational time.

Paralegals interested in certification must achieve an associate's or bachelor's degree through a program that has been approved by the American Bar Association. Associate's degrees may be applied towards an eventual bachelor's degree. Bachelor's degrees are the result of a full four year course of study with a major or minor in paralegal studies through a college or university. Bachelor's degrees provide a gateway to an eventual master's program, which allows paralegals to specialize and concentrate within one area of the field of law. Paralegals with an associate's or bachelor's degree may also enroll in a post-bachelor's certificate program through their paralegal continuing education program.

Some good resources for those interested in learning more about paralegal continuing education programs:

The American Bar Association ( ABA ) is the leading provider of information for those practicing within the field of law. ABA (www.abanet.org) provides its own approved CE programs that are available for purchase. There are even a limited number of free programs.

The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) is composed of 19,000 paralegal members and 90 state and local paralegal associations. NALA (www.nala.org) provides information on continuing education and its own online courses.

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) is an organization that provides information on the paralegal profession and boasts over 55 member paralegal associations with over 17,000 individual members. Find them at www.paralegals.org.