While it isn't required of the legal profession, a paralegal degree goes a long way in ensuring a job applicant meets the high standards that most law firms require of their staff. In most cases, it takes only about two years to complete a degree program and many graduates consider it time well spent.
A paralegal degree is often an associate's degree, which is sometimes offered at community colleges and vocational schools, but universities offer them, too. In fact, paralegal studies at a university offering a four-year program of study results in a bachelor's degree.
Since there are no nationwide standards that require a paralegal degree of someone entering into the profession, many legal assistants get the job first and either train on the job exclusively or supplement their on-the-job training with a more formalized course of education in a community college or technical school.
Regardless of its scope, many graduates of a paralegal degree program choose to sit for certification examinations offered by one of two organizations that offer certification on a national scale. Each entity awards a different designation to those applicants who successfully complete their testing programs.
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) gives their Certified Legal Assistant examination to graduates of paralegal degree programs and to other applicants who meet their requirements. Successful completion of this two-day examination earns the designation Certified Legal Assistant.
Other paralegal degree graduates may choose instead to take the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam, a four-hour test presented by the national Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). This association awards the designation Registered Paralegal to all applicants who complete the exam with passing grades.
Earning a paralegal degree and passing either of these examinations creates an excellent foundation from which to build a rewarding career in the legal profession. And it's a very enticing occupation, especially at this period in time. Government projections list a paralegal career as one that is growing faster than average, with a continued growth rate expected for the next ten years or more.