Paralegal Certificate vs. Certified Paralegal

These terms are often confused by legal professionals, educators, and students; however, the terms have separate and distinct meanings. 

A paralegal certificate is something that a paralegal will possess upon successful completion of a formal program in paralegal education and training.  Depending upon the prerequisites of the program, the student may have a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in another field.  The certificate program will only offer legal specialty courses and could be a program that lasts six weeks to several months.  Once the student successfully completes the prescribed course of study, the student is issued a certificate.  This paralegal is now “certificated” in paralegal studies.  Not all paralegal education and training programs are created equal; each program will develop a curriculum that follows the guidelines of their accrediting body, if applicable.

Occasionally, a paralegal may present him/herself “certified” by virtue of completing a paralegal training course or another type of preparatory education.  Although the student may receive a certificate upon completion, this does not make the student a certified paralegal.  In this instance, the certificate is an acknowledgment of completion of a paralegal training program.  Professional certification from an entity such as NALA or TBLS recognizes specific skills, experience, and knowledge.

A certified paralegal is one that has successfully passed one of the voluntary certification examinations offered by a certifying organization (see “Paralegal Certifications” table below or click here).  Certification grants formal recognition to a paralegal that has met certain educational and work experience requirements and passed the exam given by the certifying organization. Upon successful completion of the organization’s exam, the paralegal is a “certified” paralegal and may represent him/herself as such by displaying the designation attributable to the organization.  There is no single authority in the United States that oversees the paralegal profession. 

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Updated 11.01.2018

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