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The Difference Between a Paralegal Certification and Degree

You’re aspiring to enter the unique, difference-making career path that is working as a paralegal. As you’ve researched universities and programs, you’ve heard terms like paralegal certification and paralegal degree. Are these terms referring to the same thing?

A paralegal certification and degree are not the same. Certification is proof of passing a third-party course, such as the Certified Paralegal exam through NALA (National Association of Legal Assistants). A paralegal degree is an accredited credential offered through a college or university, such as an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree.

If you still need further clarification between a paralegal certification versus a degree, then this article is for you. Read on!

What’s the Difference Between a Paralegal Certification and Degree?

The road to working as a paralegal includes the opportunity to collect both a certification and a degree. Per the intro, here are the differences between the two so you can determine where your paralegal journey will take you.

Paralegal Certification

A paralegal certification refers to a third-party course that you successfully pass to earn a badge of sorts. The course usually requires you to take an exam or even several exams. Then you’re issued the certification.

A certification is proof of your expertise in a specific paralegal area or from an organization or association. While in some fields, you can stack certifications, as an aspiring paralegal, one certification is usually enough.

Paralegal certifications do not last forever. You might get two or more years as a certified paralegal before you’d then have to recertify. This usually entails you obtaining continuing education credits in law.

Here is a smattering of examples of paralegal certifications you might obtain throughout your career.

Professional Paralegal Certification

The Professional Paralegal (PP) certification is issued by the National Association for Legal Support Professionals or NALS.

Since 2004, the PP cert has been a benchmark in proving a paralegal’s expertise in areas such as legal judgment, substantive law, professional interactions, and strong communication.

Taking the PP exam requires first that you have a bachelor’s degree (in any field) and that you’ve graduated from an accredited paralegal program.

That program must have required 225 clock hours or 15 semester hours to be applied toward substantive law and that the course itself is 900 clock hours or 60 semester hours.

Enrollees must also have five years of legal assistant or paralegal experience.

American Alliance Certified Paralegal Certification

The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. issues the American Alliance Certified Paralegal or AACP certification.

This certification program requires enrollees to have five years of professional paralegal experience and an associate degree in a paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association. Then you can test for your cert.

Certified Paralegal through NALA

Many paralegals go for the Certified Paralegal or CP certification through NALA. If you’re currently enrolled in a paralegal program or have graduated from one, you can apply.

You can also qualify to take the exam if you have seven years of paralegal experience or a bachelor’s degree. That degree does not have to be in a law-related field, although it’s better if it is.

Earning your CP certification requires you to pass two tests that will cover your paralegal skills and knowledge. You don’t have to take the two tests at the same time or even back to back, as a year is allowed to elapse from passing one test to taking another.

Only upon successfully passing both tests will you receive your certification. The NALA CP certification lasts for two years.

Paralegal Degrees

Now that we’ve presented a detailed description of paralegal certification, it’s time to switch gears and explain the types of paralegal degrees.

A degree is an accredited program usually at the undergraduate level such as an associate degree or bachelor’s degree, and issued by a college or university either online or offline.

Certifications are only good for several years, whereas a degree is yours for life. It doesn’t expire, so there’s no need to recertify to keep it current. That said, brushing up on your knowledge is always best so you can be an effective paralegal!

You can obtain your paralegal degree online through colleges such as Bryan University. The Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies and Litigation Technologies program will help you master critical paralegal skills such as civil litigation, legal research, and document preparation.

Your program tuition fees include the courseware and books you need to get started. It’s not all book learning as part of this program, though. You will gain hands-on experience through Bryan U’s E-Discovery project management and experiential labs.

You can then obtain a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies through an online university. The Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies and Litigation Technologies program that Bryan University offers uses a dynamic experiential learning model to help you make the most of your education.

The learning model includes individual coaching sessions, a learning environment centered on subject mastery, flexible assignments, real-world examples, workshops, and access to top learning technology like Cerego.

Is a Paralegal Degree Worth It?

You may have heard that you don’t need a paralegal degree to start working in the field of law. While that’s technically true, that doesn’t mean a degree is something you should skip.

Having an associate or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies is about more than adding to your resume (although that’s helpful too).

It’s about learning the skills that make paralegals sought-after by government agencies, corporate law firms, insurance agencies, and even international law firms.

Having a paralegal degree credential also allows you to develop and sharpen the abilities that your paralegal job will require of you every day. Some of those abilities include researching, communication, organizing case details, and creating legal reports.

If you’re still not totally convinced that you need a paralegal degree, you may recall that you can’t obtain a paralegal certification without at least an associate degree.

Many more organizations and associations that provide certifications to paralegals require bachelor’s degrees if you hope to earn your certification.

By attending an online university, you can work your way towards your bachelor’s degree. Upon graduating, you can begin working as a paralegal.

You may choose to not pursue certification upon graduating and working in the field. However, after racking up several years of experience, you can revisit the idea of earning a certification since this option is available to you.

Working on Your Paralegal Certification and Degree at the Same Time Through an Online University

If you’re looking to earn your paralegal degree and eventually your certification online, Bryan University could be just the school you’re looking for.

Bryan U is an online school that can supercharge your education. As a student in the Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies and Litigation Technologies program or the Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies and Litigation Technologies program, your paralegal education will make you well-rounded in all the skills a paralegal or legal assistant needs to excel.

You’ll work in the E-Discovery Lab for Software, Simulation & Applications or ELSSA, a simulation lab that gives you a chance to apply the valuable paralegal skills you learned.

Through the DeXL learning model, you can select the assignments that work for you according to how you like to learn or your availability.

Plus, you can work your way towards your CP certification while you’re working on your associate or bachelor’s degree at Bryan University.

We’ll help you prepare for NALA’s CP exams and pay for your first exam attempt once you graduate the Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies and Litigation Technologies program!

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