Professional organizations play key roles in many industries by helping their members with networking, career advancement, and more. Paralegal organizations are a prime example. In fact, professional organizations for paralegals often provide their members with education, training, and certification—all of which are critical services for an industry without nationally mandated standards.
When choosing which paralegal organizations to join, your considerations might be tied to your career goals as a legal professional. Below we provide some factors to keep in mind when making your decision, as well as exploring the top paralegal organizations for your career advancement. In addition, we review some legal organizations to help you go beyond your own professional growth by contributing to community-based movements and l advancement.
What is a paralegal organization?
A paralegal organization is an association dedicated to supporting legal professionals in the paralegal field. The support these organizations provide comes in many forms. Membership and participation in these organizations are prime strategies for paralegal networking. Many paralegal organizations go beyond these essentials, also providing continuing education, mentorship, training, and paralegal certifications.
These organizations benefit paralegals and the industry as a whole. Both foster a sense of community among legal professionals, and provide education and training components integral to strengthening the paralegal industry as a whole. In the United States, no single authority oversees the paralegal profession, and no state offers paralegal licenses. This is in stark contrast to attorneys, who are required to attend law school, pass their local bar exam, and obtain a license to practice law. The certification programs offered by paralegal organizations provide legal professionals with the opportunity to earn similar credentials, which raise their professional standing.
A paralegal’s needs for professional advancement are even greater in the modern technological era. Now paralegals need to be well-versed in legal technology and automation. In fact, it serves paralegals well to participate in the decision-making process for implementing new technology. To gain this expertise and authority, paralegals can look to paralegal organizations to fill in gaps in their education and training.
What is the best paralegal association?
So what is the best paralegal association to join or look to for resources? Unfortunately, the answer is the typical lawyerly, unsatisfactory response—it depends. The best paralegal organizations for you are the ones that best serve your professional needs and desires. The choice depends on your own professional goals and needs, as well as your geographic location, specialties, and other factors.
For example, you may want to focus on building skills in billable paralegal services, such as eDiscovery and legal research, to maximize firm profitability.
Also, consider the kind of paralegal you are and select an association that serves that type well. A criminal law paralegal in the Pacific Northwest seeking networking opportunities may need a different association than a family law paralegal on the East Coast looking for training and certification. On the other hand, a remote paralegal may not be as constrained by geographic location as a traditional in-office paralegal.
Top 7 paralegal associations to support your career growth
These paralegal organizations, all nationwide in scope, are some of the top organizations to foster paralegal career advancement. When you understand the organizations’ services and opportunities, you’ll have better standards to evaluate any organization you choose to join.
National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) is one of few paralegal organizations which has been supporting paralegals for over 40 years (since its founding in 1975). NALA’s educational and certification programs make it truly stand out from most other paralegal associations. NALA also hosts numerous conferences throughout the year.
For its continuing education programs, NALA offers self-study courses, webinars, and events (both live and in-person). These programs cover numerous practice areas and topics of general interest, such as eDiscovery and business etiquette.
NALA’s certification programs are especially comprehensive. The basic Certified Paralegal certification has stringent eligibility requirements—either (1) graduation from an approved paralegal program or (2) a bachelor’s degree or high school diploma, along with varying requirements for legal coursework and paralegal experience. Applicants must pass a comprehensive five-part examination in order to receive certification. The Advanced Certified Paralegal program provides specialized certifications in specific areas of law.
National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), founded in 1974, was the first national paralegal association. NFPA comprises over 50 member organizations with more than 9,000 individual members. As with NALA, NFPA also provides professional certifications and continuing education. The organization is also active at the political and regulatory level. As they provide input on legislative action, court changes, and legal professional standards.
NFPA offers professional certifications at the basic CORE Registered Paralegal (CRP) level and the advanced Registered Paralegal (RP) certification. Earning the CRP designation requires passing an exam on paralegal practice and substantive areas of law. The RP designation requires a certain number of years of paralegal experience and an even more comprehensive exam.
As with other paralegal organizations, beyond education and networking opportunities, NFPA also provides professional scholarships and awards.
National Association for Legal Support Professionals (NALS)
The National Association for Legal Support Professionals (NALS) was founded as the National Association for Legal Secretaries in 1929, eventually expanding to cover all legal support professionals. The organization offers opportunities in networking, education, and certification.
The Professional Paralegal certification is available to those with either a paralegal degree or five years of paralegal/legal assistant experience who pass a four-part exam. Once this certification is earned, a paralegal can also earn a Specialty Certificate in one or more areas of law.
American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE)
As its name suggests, the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) focuses on promoting paralegal and legal studies education. Its member schools include hundreds of universities and colleges throughout the U.S. and Canada. In addition to promoting high standards for paralegal education, AAfPE also holds annual conferences and seminars and provides a forum for professional improvement for paralegal educators. The AAfPE is one of the paralegal organizations that is an excellent resource for sorting out paralegal educational standards when seeking professional training.
American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on Paralegals
The American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on Paralegals develops and promotes policies related to paralegals—specifically, their education, training, employment, and effective utilization by attorneys. The Standing Committee maintains a directory of ABA-approved paralegal education programs. In addition, the ABA is open to paralegals for membership, which could provide useful networking opportunities for hiring attorneys and law firms looking for paralegals.
American Alliance of Paralegals Inc. (AAPI)
The American Alliance of Paralegals Inc. (AAPI), founded in 2003, is dedicated to providing training, education, and certification for paralegals. The AAPI certification does not have an examination component, and instead, certification applicants need only have the required amounts of education and experience. The association also provides affordable options for education and training.
Canadian Association of Paralegals
The Canadian Association of Paralegals (CAP) is one of the paralegal organizations which provides numerous membership benefits to Canadian paralegals, including networking and education opportunities. The organization has more than 2000 members across Canada. In addition, CAP members can establish links with the bar associations in various Canadian provinces.
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Bonus: Legal organizations for building community
In addition to seeking career growth, paralegals can also join organizations that help create strong community connections. These organizations can foster a sense of meaning and contribution to your professional growth efforts, which can help you avoid paralegal burnout. These points are especially true in current times. As the COVID pandemic has had disproportionate impacts on groups pushed to the margins of society.
The Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA)
The Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) represents the interests of over 67,000 legal professionals in the U.S. and its territories. The organization seeks to create opportunities for Hispanic legal professionals and advocates on issues important to the national Hispanic community. In addition to offering continuing education and professional development, HNBA provides scholarships and stipends to Hispanic students.
The National Association of Minority & Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) is a network of law firms that promotes diversity in the legal profession. The organization’s philosophy is the best way to support diversity is by encouraging corporate clients to retain more minority and women-owned firms. It assists its law firm members in developing alliances with corporations, in-house counsel, and legal trade associations.
Various LGBTQ organizations seek to promote rights for historically oppressed groups, both inside and outside the legal industry. The LGBTQ+ Bar is a national association of legal professionals and LGBT legal organizations. APLA Health is a non-profit organization that provides healthcare, support services, and HIV specialty care to the LGBTQ community. And GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) uses litigation, advocacy, and education to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status.
Final notes on the importance of paralegal organizations
Paralegal organizations can boost your career growth as a paralegal. Consider your own goals and needs when selecting the best organization for you. Foster a sense of service and community by joining community-building organizations. Keep an eye out for new legal organizations to consider, using lists of associations and professional organizations. And keep an open mind to additional networking opportunities, such as the Law Community, by Clio, which serves as an online network for legal professionals.
We published this blog post in April 2022. Last updated: .
Categorized in: Business