What is a Paralegal?

The American Bar Association defines a paralegal as:

“A legal assistant or paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.”

Read more about the ABA definition of Legal Assistant/Paralegal adopted by the ABA House of Delegates in August 1997

Certification, Regulation and Voluntary Registration


It is important to distinguish between a paralegal certificate and certification. The terms are often confused.
The terms are not interchangeable and have separate meaning. A certificate verifies that a student has
successfully completed a paralegal educational program. Generally, these programs are offered at universities and colleges. The prerequisites may vary but many require the entering student to have an associate or bachelor’s degree in another area. For example, if a program offers a post‐baccalaureate paralegal certificate, the student will have obtained a bachelor’s degree in an area other than paralegal studies. It is possible that the student will take only legal specialty courses since they have completed their general education requirements during the pursuit of their associate or bachelor’s degree. Upon successful completion of the institution’s educational requirements, the student is issued a certificate of completion. The student is now certificated in paralegal studies.

A certified paralegal is one that has successfully completed a certification exam or other requirements of the certifying organization. Certification is the process through which an organization grants formal recognition to an individual that meets certain established requirements. This may include meeting educational requirements, prior work experience as a paralegal and passing an examination. Once the paralegal has met these criteria, they may use a special designation namely, “certified paralegal."

Currently, all certification programs in the United States are voluntary. Therefore, a paralegal may work in the field without obtaining certification. Two of the national paralegal organizations, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, or NFPA and the National Association of Legal Assistants, or NALA, offer certification. Some state bar associations, such as The Florida Bar Registered Paralegal Program, The North Carolina State Bar Certified Paralegal Program, and The Ohio State Bar Association Paralegal Certification Program, offer voluntary certification, or registration, for paralegals working in those states. It is important to note that voluntary registration is not certification.

In addition, the Texas Board of Legal Specialization Paralegal Certification Program certifies paralegals in six select areas of law. The scope, duration and requirements for the certification credential vary with each organization. Check with the organization offering the credential to determine the requirements.


Florida Bar - Florida Registered Paralegal


A Florida Registered Paralegal is a person with education, training, or work experience, who works under the direction and supervision of a member of The Florida Bar and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a member of The Florida Bar is responsible and who has met the requirements of registration as set forth in Chapter 20 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar.

A Florida Registered Paralegal is not a member of The Florida Bar and may not give legal advice or practice law. The Florida Registered Paralegal designation does not necessarily indicate that a paralegal has successfully completed and passed a voluntary certification test, such as the PACE, PCCE or CP exam and a Florida Registered Paralegal should not hold themselves out as "certified" if they have not successfully passed one of these paralegal certification examinations.

Florida Registered Paralegal and FRP are trademarks of The Florida Bar.

Are you a Certified Paralegal?

Occasionally, paralegals call themselves "certified" by virtue of completing a paralegal training course, or another type of preparatory education. Although a school may award a certificate of completion, this is not the same as earning professional certification by an entity such as NFPA or NALA. In this instance the school's certificate is designation of completion of a training program.


Likewise, Florida Registered Paralegals are paralegals who have voluntarily registered with the Florida Bar.  The FRP designation does not necessarily mean a paralegal has successfully earned a professional certification. 

TBPA is a voluntary professional association and does not make any representation, endorsement or guarantee as to the quality, reliability, competency, accuracy, business practice/standards/ethics, or professionalism of any member of TBPA.  TBPA does not conduct background checks or any other form of due diligence on any person or business applying for membership with TBPA.


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