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My Opinion

Examining Certification

Opinions vary on the merits of passing a voluntary exam.

By John J. McGurk

May/June 2007 Table of Contents


While voluntary paralegal certification has become more prevalent and the number of exams has expanded, there is still no agreement on the career benefits of becoming certified, according to the latest My Opinion survey.

Asked if paralegals who have passed state or national certification exams receive more recognition than those who have not, 50.7 percent of survey respondents said yes and 49.3 percent said no. Some respondents, such as contract administrator Beth Magee, RP, have seen their opinion on the matter evolve.

“I have gone from being opposed to voluntary certification to being a vocal and staunch advocate,” said Magee, a 22-year paralegal from Atlanta. “I believe that it is good for the individual and the profession.”

Among those who think passing an exam increases recognition for paralegals, 83.3 percent said it leads to more respect from attorneys, while 75 percent cited a higher salary and 72.2 percent said those who pass an exam are hired or promoted over noncertified paralegals.

“I believe voluntary certification demonstrates a paralegal’s commitment to the field and to continuing education,” said Wendy Kimbel, ACP, NCCP, a 29-year paralegal from Mebane, N.C. “It also confirms for attorneys and other employers that the paralegal can meet minimum competency standards.”

For those who believe passing an exam doesn’t boost recognition, 94.3 percent said it’s because attorneys don’t know enough about certification.

“I’m not sure why, but most attorneys don’t want to be educated about paralegal exams,” said K.A. Jordan, a 23-year paralegal from Milton, Del. “They say, ‘Oh, that’s nice’ if you pass, but they are really thinking of other things when deciding who to hire — education, experience, salary.”

The “experience counts more” reason was listed by 54.3 percent of those who don’t see the merits of certification. “I live in Massachusetts, and I was told that experience comes first, then education,” said Allison Cameron, a 17-month legal assistant from Boston.

Among all survey respondents, 26.8 percent said they have passed a certification exam, and several have passed multiple exams. Nearly 16 percent of those have passed the Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal exam offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants, and almost 10 percent have passed the National Federation of Paralegal Association’s Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam. No other exam was listed by more than two respondents.

Interestingly, while 75 percent of respondents who favor certification said higher salary is a main benefit, only 31.6 percent of those who have passed an exam said greater earning potential was a motivation for taking the test. However, all of the certified paralegals listed personal satisfaction as a factor, while 58 percent cited more career opportunities and 37 percent listed more respect. Regardless of why they chose to take an exam, 79 percent of the certified paralegals said passing one has helped their career.

“Any kind of advanced education or continuing education is never wasted,” said Billie Bacle, a 29-year paralegal from Shreveport, La. “It helps you to be a better paralegal, employee and individual.”

It seems the survey respondents agree. Despite an even split among those who think certification provides more recognition and those who don’t, nearly 71 percent who have not taken a certification exam said they plan to. And while their reasons for taking an exam might vary, perhaps some respondents feel the same way as Jan Barger, an 18-year senior environmental paralegal from Grand Rapids, Mich., who believes certification is the wave of the future.

“I am a respected, long-term paralegal at my firm, and I know that having a certification would not change anyone’s opinion of me,” Barger said. “But long after I’m gone from the profession, things will change. Up-and-coming paralegals should be encouraged to become certified.” 



survey results

Do you think paralegals who have passed a state or national certification exam receive
     more recognition?

Yes: 50.7%

No: 49.3%


If yes, in what ways are they recognized? (Select all that apply.)

More respected by the attorneys: 83.3%

Earn a higher salary: 75.0%

Hired or promoted over paralegals who have not passed an exam: 72.2%

Other: 16.7%


If no, why do you think they are not given more recognition? (Select all that apply.)

The attorneys don’t know enough about certification: 94.3%

Experience counts more than certification: 54.3%

There are too many different exams: 22.2%

Other: 28.6%


If you have passed an exam, do you feel it has helped your career in terms of increased
     salary and opportunities?

Yes: 79.0%

No: 21.0%


Total survey responses: 71


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