I wanted to learn how to become a paralegal in California, so I familarized myself with the requirements set by the California Business and Professions Code which took effect in 2001.
The code defines that paralegals are persons qualified by appropriate education, experience, and training that enable them to perform delegated substantive legal work under the supervision of an attorney.
Under the Code, a paralegal must possess any of the following minimum educational requirements:
* A certificate of completion of an ABA-approved paralegal program
* A certificate of completion of at least 24 semester units in law or related courses approved by the Bureau for Private Post-secondary and Vocational Education, or accredited by national or regional accrediting organizations.
* A bachelor's or a higher degree in any subject, at least 1 year of law-related experience under the supervision of an active member of the State Bar of California, and a written statement from this attorney certifying that the person is qualified to do paralegal work.
* A secondary education or a general equivalency diploma, at least 3 years of law-related experience under the supervision of an active member of the State Bar of California, and a written statement from this attorney certifying that the person is qualified to do paralegal work.
Paralegals are also called Legal Assistants because they assist lawyers in the delivery of legal services.
The Code, however, is explicit in stating that paralegals or legal assistants cannot work independently with clients.
Paralegals must be employed or under contract by an active member of the State Bar of California, who has direct supervision and responsibility over the delegated job to the paralegal.
Paralegals in California undergo voluntary certification through non-governmental organizations that assess their qualification based on standards.
Some examples of these certifications are those issued by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), such as the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or Certified Paralegal (CP) for persons who qualify in the set criteria. NALA also issues a CLA Specialist or CP Specialist title to those who pass the specialty certifying examination for a specific field of law.
Certifications, such as the CLA or CP, are not prerequisites in the practice of the profession.
However, in the current competitive employment trend, paralegals would not wish to remain un-certified.
It is important to prove to employers that an organization recognizes their abilities and attests to their qualification.
The certification is issued only after passing the CLA examination which has over 1000 questions and upon compliance with continuing education. The CLA has become the badge of higher professional achievement.
Under the Business and Professions Code, California paralegals must comply with the minimum continuing legal education program consisting of 4 hours general or specialized legal education and 4 hours of legal ethics every two years.
There is no reporting mechanism to be rendered to the government, but it is the responsibility of the supervising attorneys to keep track of this compliance.
While there is a code that defines what paralegals are, the nature of their work, and the extent and limits to their functions, there is no agency that governs paralegals in California.
There is no regulating agency that issues licenses, tests their competency and moral character, sets a code of ethics for the practice of their profession and disciplinary system, or requires them to render reports.
There is only a provision for penalty and civil liability integrated into the Code.
It seems like all the regulation that currently exists, is the self-regulation exerted by non-government organizations and associations to their members.
Here is the list of paralegal societies, organizations and associations in California.
Alliance of Legal Document Assistant Professionals (ALDAP)
ALDAP is an organization of registered Legal Document Assistants (LDAs), and freelance or self-employed Paralegal/LDA dual professionals.
Since these are allied professions that cater to the needs of professionals in the various specialty areas of law, they have joined together to develop their profession, facilitate the conduct of seminars for continuing legal education, and support the promotion of professional standards and regulatory compliance. This is a mutual and non-profit organization.
California Alliance of Paralegal Associations (CAPA)
The CAPA is a statewide alliance of attorneys, member associations, local/state/national Bar Associations, and other persons or groups in the legal community.
It is committed to the modernization and development of the paralegal profession as it acquires strength through a strong alliance.
California Association of Legal Document Assistants (CALDA)
CALDA, as it is commonly known, is the former California Association of Independent Paralegals.
Los Angeles Paralegal Association (LAPA)
LAPA was organized in response to the swelling clamor for an organized professional organization of paralegals throughout the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area in 1972.
It was only in 1977 when the association was finally incorporated as a non-profit and mutual benefit entity. As of late, its membership has grown to 1,000.
NALS of Orange County
NALS of Orange County is the county's chapter of the National Association for Legal Professionals founded way back in 1949.
It is registered as a non-profit association for members employed in the legal profession and maintains its existence as being non-partisan, non-sectarian, and non-union.
Orange County Paralegal Association (OCPA)
Responding to the rising need for an organized association for paralegals, OCPA was eventually established in 1977 as a section of the Orange County Bar Association.
Finally, in 1986 OCPA separated from its mother unit and registered as a non-profit corporation for paralegals determined to raise the bar of their profession.
Paralegal Association of Santa Clara County (PASCCO)
PASCCO is a professional and educational association serving legal assistants. It was founded in 1978.
Most of its members are paralegals employed by the county's corporations, law firms, and government agencies.
Sacramento Valley Paralegal Association (SVPA)
The SVPA was founded in 1978 as the Sacramento Association of Legal Assistants.
It was incorporated in 1981 as a non-profit and mutual benefit corporation. While the designations "Legal Assistants" and "Paralegal" are used interchangeably, the former name seems to have been updated by the newer term.
Thus the association changed its name in 2000 to adapt to changes in the legal environment.
San Diego Paralegal Association (SDPA)
SDPA was founded in 1977 as San Diego Association of Legal Assistants. It also updated its name like the SDPA, but remained essentially the same organization that it was many years ago.
San Francisco Paralegal Association (SFPA)
This non-profit organization seeks to provide professional enhancement to its individual members in San Francisco and find ways to deliver paralegal services economically and efficiently.
The paralegal profession thrives under self-regulation in California.
Chose a paralegal society within your locality and one which will be able to respond to your professional needs to develop and enhance skills necessary to the services you provide.