Associations for Paralegals
National Association of Legal Assistants
According to www.nala.org, the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) is the leading organization in the United States for paralegals and legal assistants. NALA is a non-profit organization that provides a variety of support services to paralegals, including continuing education, professional development, and a voluntary certification program.
NALA membership is offered in four categories: Active, Associate, Student, and Sustaining. All members receive the same benefits of membership, although only active members may vote, serve on committees or become an officer or director of the association. Active members of NALA include any individual who has met criteria involving certification, education, and experience as an in-house paralegal under the supervision of a licensed attorney.
National Federation of Paralegal Associations
According to its website, www.paralegals.org, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. (NFPA) “promotes a global presence for the paralegal profession and leadership in the legal community.” Founded in 1974, NFPA was the first national paralegal association in the United States. It was created as a non-profit federation, and describes itself as “an issues-driven, policy-oriented professional association directed by its membership.”NFPA can also claim another first: it was the first national paralegal association to have a website.
NFPA is made up of more than 50 member associations and has over 11,000 individual members, bringing with them a wide range of experience, education and diversity. Membership options include Individual, Organization, and Association memberships, as well as some other unique options, including a Military Sustaining Membership-at-Large for paralegals currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, and also Associate, Affiliate, and Student Association memberships.
American Association for Paralegal Education
The American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) is an organization that was created in 1981 to serve paralegal educators and the institutions that offer paralegal education programs. Its main focus is to improve the quality of paralegal education. AAfPE has over 450 members, and its member schools currently enroll nearly 50,000 students and have nearly 200,000 graduates.
The AAfPE defines paralegals as individuals who “perform substantive and procedural legal work as authorized by law, which work, in the absence of the paralegal, would be performed by an attorney. Paralegals have knowledge of the law gained through education, or education and work experience, which qualifies them to perform legal work. Paralegals adhere to recognized ethical standards and rules of professional responsibility.”
According to the AAfPE website, the organization’s goals are to promote high standards for paralegal education, provide a professional forum for paralegal educators, hold annual conferences and seminars for educators, give technical assistance and consultation services to schools, teachers, and paralegal employers, provide accurate information regarding the paralegal profession, work with the American Bar Association and other entities to develop an approval system for paralegal programs, and take a global approach to paralegal education through cooperation with others individuals and groups interested in the paralegal profession.
Individuals and institutions can gain membership in the American Association for Paralegal Education by meeting the criteria required by one of the five classifications of AAfPE membership, and by paying their annual dues. The five classifications are Institutional, Associate, Affiliate, Sustaining and Individual. There is also a sixth type of membership, Honorary, that is by election only.
Visitors to the AAfPE website www.aafpe.org can receive information about how to find a quality paralegal program, get tips regarding choosing a school, and find out what criteria should be used when evaluating a paralegal education program.
According to the AAfPE, a paralegal needs to possess not only a basic foundation of legal knowledge, but also must have critical thinking, organizational, research, writing, oral communication, and interpersonal skills to be successful in the profession. The AAfPE recommends that all paralegal education programs, regardless of their emphasized specialty area, should provide students with an integrated set of general legal courses that develop those skills.
Not surprisingly, the AAfPE discourages potential paralegal students from enrolling in short-term paralegal programs, some of which require less than nine semester credit hours (125 clock hours), while AAfPE member institutions are required to provide no fewer than 18 semester credit hours of substantive paralegal classes. The AAfPE feels that these programs to a disservice to the legal profession because they ill-prepare paralegals for the challenging duties they will face upon entering the field, and as a result, consumers of legal services may receive lower quality services, harming the profession’s reputation as a vital, cost-effective, and reliable player in the delivery of legal services.
American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.
The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. states on their website that they are “advancing the paralegal by focusing on the individual paralegal.” The American Alliance advocates a Bachelor’s degree including, or combining, a paralegal studies program for individuals entering the profession, and encourages at least nine hours of continuing legal education annually, including a minimum of one hour of ethics instruction, throughout a paralegal’s career. The organization shares the American Association for Paralegal Education’s position on short-term paralegal programs, and states its goals as follows at www.aapipara.org:
- Establish minimum educational criteria
- Adhere to ethical standards
- Provide networking opportunities
- Create a resource center
- Associate with national and local organizations
To be a member of the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. individuals must meet the minimum educational background and paralegal job experience as required by the organization.