Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What makes you different? A look at professional development, education, and credentials. (Part 2 of 2)

As RPA Education Chair, NALA Professional Development Committee (PDC) Chair, and a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal® (ACP®), I think about education and credentials a lot.  A good philosophy for professional development is to do something that will help you personally and professionally, and that will help distinguish you from your peers.  Maybe this is leadership development, continuing education, a degree, or a certification.  Something I see in every aspect of my professional life is confusion about certificates versus certification (Part 1, posted earlier), and regulation versus registration (Part 2).  Part 1 is an important piece of this conversation, too. 

Why does a paralegal need any of it?  Something to remember is that no formal training or education is consistently required in Virginia or nationally. Many “real” paralegals don’t pursue any additional professional development. 

Regulation
According to the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR), regulation occurs when a government body, in Virginia the General Assembly, determines that a profession or occupation should be regulated in order to protect the public.  The General Assembly may direct a regulatory body or agency to develop regulations detailing entry requirements as well as standards of practice governing the profession or occupation.  Laws are enacted surrounding these professions, and can only be changed by the General Assembly.  Regulation requires specific licensing or certification in order to work in the profession.  Architects, body piercers, doctors, waste management facility operators, lawyers, real estate appraisers, cemetery companies, and polygraph operators, among many others, are regulated.  There is a need to protect the public- an architect who doesn’t follow building codes may design a building that collapses on the occupants, body piercers who decide not to clean their equipment endanger clients, polygraph operators mishandling equipment put subjects at risk of being incarcerated when they shouldn’t or not incarcerated when they should be!  The Virginia Department of Health Professions governs the health professions and its various practitioners.  The online application for Medicine and Surgery includes a $302 application fee.  Paralegals know that the Virginia State Bar is the mandatory professional organization that governs lawyers practicing in Virginia.  Mandatory dues for lawyers for 2015-2016 are $250 annually; voluntary section dues are in addition to that.  Required continuing education costs are in addition to these mandatory fees.  We know that paralegals must be supervised by an attorney, including free-lance paralegals.  Attorneys themselves are regulated; although Virginia has freelance and virtual paralegals, and paralegals who represent clients in areas where a lay person may do so.  Paralegals are already self-regulated; I cannot come up with any public need for outside regulation.

Registration
Registration is a voluntary process.  The best definition of professional registration is from the Babylon online dictionary: The process of compiling and maintaining a list of names of people who have met specified professional standards.  As a paralegal association in Virginia, RPA is a member of the Virginia Alliance of Paralegal Associations (VAPA), whose mission is to advance, foster, and promote the paralegal profession by providing a statewide voice for paralegals.  VAPA’s goals are to maintain a statewide communications network among the member associations and others in the legal community, and to monitor developments in the paralegal profession.   VAPA is preparing to introduce a voluntary registration program for Virginia paralegals- Virginia Registered Paralegal (VARP).  The website tab for VARP still under development as they have not announced full details yet, but my understanding is that by paying a small annual or biannual fee and meeting specific continuing legal education requirements on an ongoing basis, registrants may use the VARP designation. There may be prerequisites to applying for the registration, but there is no qualification exam.  The VARP program tells employers that holders met the continuing education requirements that VAPA required. 

Licensure
With a goal of increasing the accessibility of legal services, several states are beginning to license or explore licensing in the legal field.  Washington state administered its first Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) exam in May 2015, the first of several requirements to practice as an LLLT (showing proof of insurance and 3,000 hours of supervised experience are the other requirements).  Seven people passed the first exam; as of January, nine have completed all requirements and were practicing.  LLLT is governed by the Washington State Bar Association.  There are rules, an LLLT Board, and training to go along with this designation.  The Utah Supreme Court accepted a November 18, 2015 report from its Task Force to Examine Limited Legal Licensing.  Oregon, North Carolina, DC, Indiana, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Mexico, Mississippi, New York, California, Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri and California all have considered or are considering options.  If you follow RPA on Facebook, you may have seen the notice posted when the ABA recently adopted Resolution 105 (February 2016), a resolution on the provision of legal services.  It outlines the amended ABA objectives for the delivery of legal services, reiterates the ABA policy prohibiting no lawyer ownership of law firms, and potentially opens the field for non-lawyer options such as the LLLT.  Last year we heard Tom Spahn mention this subject at an ethics CLE he did for RPA- this definitely remains a stay-tuned subject in Virginia. 

Why does any of this matter?
If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably made decisions for yourself about what you want to do— or not do.  I encourage you to choose a path and follow it— differentiate yourself from other paralegals out there.  RPA is here to help, but only a hiring employer can tell you if they require a specific professional achievement.  Determine what you want, what makes you different, what makes you proud of yourself.  Then go for it. 




Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What makes you different? A look at professional development, education, and credentials. (Part 1 of 2)

As RPA Education Chair, NALA Professional Development Committee (PDC) Chair, and a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal® (ACP®), I think about education and credentials a lot.  A good philosophy for professional development is to do something that will help you personally and professionally, and that will help distinguish you from your peers.  Maybe this is leadership development, continuing education, a degree, or a certification.  Something I see in every aspect of my professional life is confusion about certificates versus certification (Part 1), and regulation versus registration (Part 2).  More importantly, why does a paralegal need any of it?

Something important to remember is that no formal training or education is consistently required in Virginia or nationally. Many “real” paralegals don’t pursue any additional professional development.

Certificates
Paralegal education is generally voluntary.  Many, but not all, employers require or prefer applicants to have a degree or certificate in any field, and some specifically look for degrees or certificates in paralegal studies.  The American Bar Association evaluates and approves paralegal programs or schools that meet very specific requirements.  Some employers require that the paralegal studies degree or certificate be received from an ABA-approved school.  Only the hiring employer can tell you if they prefer an ABA-approved program.  When you go to a college and take classes in paralegal studies and graduate, you receive a certificate or associates, bachelors or masters degree.  A certificate program is typically shorter in duration than a degree program.  You can say you are “certificated” only if you completed a certificate program: you have passed all the requirements for the certificate program at the school you attended.  Additionally, there is a new certificate program for Legal Project Management, offered by the LPM Institute.  This LPM certificate program is a specialization rather than a paralegal certificate program.  There may be other specialization certificates offered.

Certification
Paralegal certification is a voluntary process, separate from education although there are education programs that incorporate taking a certification exam.  Many successful, knowledgeable paralegals never choose to become certified.  It is becoming more common for employers to prefer, and sometimes require, applicants to have passed a certification.  As a NALA affiliate, RPA focuses on the NALA Certified Paralegal® exam, although there are other certifications available.  NALA’s mission is to lead the paralegal profession by providing a voluntary certification program, continuing legal education, and professional development programs for all paralegals.  NALA reminds us that professional certification is a process respected by both employers and others within a field.  According to the American Society of Association Executives, professional certification is a voluntary process by which a nongovernmental entity grants a time-limited recognition to an individual after verifying that the individual has met predetermined, standardized criteria. (Rops, Mickie S., CAE, Understanding the Language of Credentialing, ASAE, May 2002.)  Common certifications include Certified Public Accountants (CPA), Certified Financial Advisers (CFA), and Project Management Professionals (PMP), among others.  For paralegals, once they meet exam prerequisites (which can be found on NALA’s website, here, and include significant education, experience, or a combination of both), they can apply to take the CP exam.  Not everyone will be successful: the exam is challenging!  People who have taken both the CP exam and their state bar exam to become lawyers have said that the CP exam was as hard as the bar exam.  NALA’s Certifying Board conducts job analysis studies every six years to determine the areas on which the CP exam should focus (the exam specifications).  The CP exam was updated most recently with the September 2013 exam.  In May 2014, the CP exam received accreditation from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).  The CP exam is the only NCCA-accredited exam in the country.  Only paralegals who have passed the CP or other paralegal certification exam may use the appropriate credentials and say that they are “certified.”  Advanced Paralegal Certification is available for CPs interested in specializing.  These credentials are valid nationally and tell employers that the holder met rigorous standardized evaluation criteria.  Passing the CP exam was one of the hardest but most rewarding achievements of my life.

Come back for Part 2 on registration and regulation.   

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Changes to the Paralegal Profession



By Teresa A. Clark, ACP
The changes to our profession over the past 20+ years have been astounding! Not only because of technological advances, but in general things are definitely different. I am sure that most, if not all you have been impacted by changes to the number of staff at your firms, mostly by lowering the attorney to administrative assistant ratio. Many paralegals that I have talked to, have been impacted by this, which has often resulted in increased administrative duties. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

3 Ways to Continue Growth

By Donna Strauss, ACP

Paralegal growth.  Is there really such a thing?  A paralegal can certainly learn more and take on more substantive work, but where does a paralegal go from there?  Unlike other business roles where employees work their way up the path to leadership, many paralegals don’t have anywhere to go unless they take the big step of attending law school.

So what is there to do?  For one thing, ignore my previous paragraph.  We all know that paralegals ROCK!  Where would all the great lawyers be without us?  As far as growth, there are so many ways we can grow, not just in our careers, but overall, which results in a more productive paralegal.  But how do you begin?

Friday, August 21, 2015

6 Important Soft Skills

By Kitty Bice, ACP

Last month I had the opportunity to attend the National Association of Legal Assistants and Paralegals’ (“NALA”) 40th Annual Convention and Exhibition in Tulsa, Oklahoma.   It was a tremendous event with wonderful educational institutes, sponsors from companies which paralegals depend on to do their jobs well, great speakers and presentations and fellow paralegals from across the country.  At the Convention, members and candidates from the Executive Board introduced themselves and shared six important soft skills that were essential to being a successful paralegal. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ask not what Richmond can do for you. Ask what you can do for Richmond.

By Irma Bektic

One of the reasons I joined RPA was because I thought it would provide me with opportunities to give back to the Richmond community. Why was this so important to me? Because I recognize that I owe a lot of my success to the support system and mentors that Richmond has afforded me. RPA’s mission is to foster professionalism, continuing legal education, public service, and networking for paralegals in Central Virginia. I knew that RPA’s strong presence in both the Richmond legal field and throughout the Commonwealth could be used to do a lot of good.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Why the Certified Paralegal Exam? Why Me?

By Darlene Yeary, ACP

Many of you ask,  “What is the Certified Paralegal Exam, and why should I take it?”  The Certified Paralegal Exam, also known as the CP Exam, is a test administered by National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) that is offered three times a year (January, May, and September).  This exam covers Communications, Ethics, Legal Research, Judgment & Analytic Ability, and Substantive Law. 

You could consider the intensity of studying for this exam to be the paralegal equivalent of studying for the bar exam. As of March 16, 2015, there are 18,282 certified paralegals in the United States, including 434 in Virginia.