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A Word to the Wise about Online “Legal Assistant Certification”

Who can resist an article entitled “Become a Legal Assistant and Never Worry About Job Security Again”?

Not me. The article shows up in a Google news search for “legal assistant.” Some readers might think this is real news.

But I’m going to encourage newbies thinking about getting a paralegal degree to take Joel McLaughlin’s article with a big grain of salt. And not only because it’s essentially an advertisement for one online degree program.

In the first paragraph, McLaughlin repeats, “As a legal assistant, you will never worry about employment again.” In a down economy, we’re all concerned about employment if we have any sense, and if McLaughlin has kept up with legal news over the past few years, he’ll know that many lawyers and legal staffers have lost their jobs. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does project growth for the paralegal profession, these jobs are not easy pickings, like ripe fruit from low-hanging branches. There is stiff competition for every legal support staff position advertised.

But the statement that bothers me the most – because it is misleading to the uninformed – is “by obtaining certification online, you can be ready to go in to the job field in as little as eight months.” He refers to “legal assistant certification” again later in the article.

Sure, you can get a paralegal or legal assistant degree or certificate online, with a value very much dependent on the reputation of the program and the quality of the training – but you can’t become a certified paralegal or legal assistant without passing one of the voluntary national exams offered by organizations such as NALA, NFPA or NALS, or meeting the requirements in states that offer voluntary certification for paralegals.

Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor, has a fantastic post “Why Should You Be Certified” at her blog which explains the enormous difference between having a paralegal certificate and being a certified paralegal. Be sure that you know the difference, not only when you’re researching paralegal education, but when you’re describing your own credentials.

Sources: Officalwire.com; The Paralegal Mentor

4 Responses to A Word to the Wise about Online “Legal Assistant Certification”

  1. Thanks for pointing out once more the difference between receiving a certificate and earning a certification. The most alarming part of this press release is the outlandish promises that may harm the public.

  2. Vicki, I agree that the claims made in this advertisement are outrageous, and that people considering getting a paralegal education need to do their homework. An eight-month certificate from a highly reputable institution may well be a good idea for someone who already has an associate or bachelor's degree and some highly desired transferable skills – but for an individual without a degree and no relevant job experience, getting employed immediately upon graduation as a legal assistant may be very unrealistic.

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Lynne J. DeVenny, N.C. State Bar Certified Paralegal

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Lynne DeVenny is a North Carolina State Bar Certified Paralegal with over 27 years of experience working on complex litigation cases, including medical malpractice, personal injury, workers’ compensation, and Social Security disability.

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