I wholeheartedly support the certification process for paralegals and believe that it is an important professional goal. Please consider the following points:
* I graduated from a paralegal program, why should I sit for a certification exam?
* I have a paralegal certificate from a university, doesn't that make me 'certified'?
* I have a good job and several years of experience, how will being certified make a difference?
* What will those letters after my name really do for me?
* My boss doesn't care if I'm certified so why should I bother?
The American Bar Association defines certification as: 'a process by which a non-governmental agency or association grants recognition to an individual who has met certain predetermined qualifications specified by that agency or association.'
Certification takes you off the level playing field. Graduation from a paralegal program (and, thus, being certificated) is the primary avenue by which people enter the paralegal profession. If everyone has a certificate, how is a potential employer to judge the best candidate for the job? Think about the following:
Two paralegals standing side by side with the same certificate from the same school and the same amount of experience. How can one be distinguished from the other? The answer is certification. The certified paralegal demonstrates that he or she is a multi-skilled professional with diverse knowledge and effective communication skills.
Further, licensure says a person is 'qualified' to do work. It does not demonstrate advanced knowledge and skills. An example is a hair dresser (and I have the highest regard for my hair dresser, believe me!). Hair dressers are allowed to enter the profession when they are licensed by a state agency. The license does not say they have fantastic skills, it only says that they can perform the services. The certification credential is awarded to people who prove their advanced knowledge and skills by meeting the standards of the credentialing organization.
Certification will do much for you personally. Ask anyone who has a credential and they will tell you that the achievement made them walk a little taller, made them feel stronger professionally, gave them incredible personal satisfaction and increased their level of professional confidence. They set a goal and they achieved it. They took a risk and they survived it. They have the credibility that the credential provides. They literally stand out above the crowd. Their accomplishment gave them great pride. You, too, can have all that with professional certification.
One additional benefit you will reap from the certification exam: the learning that takes place in the preparation for the examination. Even the most experienced paralegal will learn something new and benefit from the intense review.
You will usually be required to participate in continuing education programs to maintain your certification. This requirement will help you keep up to date with changes in the profession and in the legal arena. Also, the credentialing organization will usually set high ethical standards for those using the credential. Unethical behavior will result in the loss of the credential.
Certification may give you a 'leg up' when you're searching for a job. In today's economy, you need all the ammunition you can muster to prove that you are the person for the job. Having the certification credential behind you exhibits not only the advanced knowledge I mentioned earlier, it also shows discipline, ambition, motivation and willingness to accept a challenge.
What is important is that the credentialing organization you choose is a bona fide entity, that the exam is administered under rules and regulations in accordance with governmental acts and in accordance with such issues as anti-trust and fairness.
It is essential that the organization agrees to keep applications and records confidential. It is crucial that the organization prepares an examination under the guidance of professional testing consultants, that the exam be continually reviewed for accuracy, and that it be updated on a regular basis.
Usually the certification designation is a certification mark duly registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Claims of certified status must be verifiable...in other words, if a paralegal claims to be certified, he or she must have the credential to prove it.
* The claim itself is true
* The bases on which certification was awarded are factual and verifiable
* The certification in question is available to all professionals in the field who meet relevant, objective and consistently applied standards
* The certification claim does not suggest any greater degree of professional qualification than reasonably may be inferred from an evaluation of the certification program's requirements.
* There is a qualified organization behind the certification process
* Decide which examination you will take.
* Decide when you will take the examination
* Working backward from the examination date, block a period of time for study and determine a study schedule (I recommend three months but that is an individual decision)
* Plan how you will study and what reference materials you will need (these may be available from the credentialing organization)
* Join a study group and enlist 'study buddies' to hold you accountable
* Take advantage of preparation and educational opportunities offered by the credentialing organization, as well as your professional association. For instance, NALA offers a three-day intense CLA review course, as well as CLA preparation courses at its convention.
©2010 Vicki Voisin, Inc.
Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or Web site? You can so long as you include this entire blurb with it: Vicki Voisin, "The Paralegal Mentor", delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by achieving goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She publishes a weekly ezine titled Paralegal Strategies and co-hosts The Paralegal Voice, a monthly podcast produced by Legal Talk Network. More information is available at www.paralegalmentor.com.