The Journal of The DuPage County Bar Association

Back Issues > Vol. 25 (2012-13)

Investment in Your Future
By Janet Fuson and Mary Kay Lieberman

Attorneys and Paralegals need to keep up with changes in the law and pursue continuing education in order to maintain a thriving practice. Professional development is something all paralegals should strive for on an ongoing basis. Over the years there have been debates on the licensure of the paralegal profession. Currently there is no single authority in the United States which oversees the paralegal profession. Numerous states have investigated the possibility, but none have imposed mandatory licensure. The driving force of licensure is to ensure competence and ethical performance. The duties and responsibilities of paralegals would likely be no different under a licensing process than the current situation. Absent a license, any employee can perform the duties of a paralegal without the title. Licensing grants a practitioner the legal right to work in their occupation and restricts entry for someone that is unlicensed. It demonstrates proficiency, and serves as a benchmark for entering the profession. [1]

Certification and credentialing programs can aide paralegals in achieving recognition for their accomplishments. Following are the various opportunities offered to paralegals based upon experience level to reach that goal.

Certification can be obtained by attending colleges, four year or community that offer degree and certificate programs. Such programs are designed to meet the needs of people at various stages in their careers. For individuals that have a bachelor degree and looking to change careers, certificate programs are advantageous and can be completed in a relatively short period of time. Upon completion of the program a paralegal is deemed certified. If one chooses this mode of advancement, it is important to consider a school that is accredited. The American Bar Association (ABA) has accredited numerous programs. Once a program receives ABA accreditation, it must adhere to strict ABA guidelines to maintain its accreditation. Employers seek employees that attend ABA approved institutions.

The Paralegal Advanced Competency Examination® (PACE®) is an option for the more experienced paralegal. The purpose of the exam is to: a) provide the groundwork for expanding paralegal roles and responsibilities; b) provide the legal community with the mechanism to gauge the competency of the experienced paralegal; and c) to be used in states considering regulation of experienced paralegals. The test covers advanced application of general knowledge, experience, and critical analysis. Requirements to sit for the PACE exam are as follows:

  • An associate’s degree in paralegal studies obtained from an institutionally accredited or an ABA approved paralegal education program; and six (6) years substantial paralegal experience; or
  • A bachelor’s degree in any course of study and three (3) years of substantive paralegal experience; or
  • A bachelor’s degree and completion of paralegal program with an institutionally accredited school (paralegal program may be embodied in a bachelor’s degree) and two (2) years substantive paralegal experience; or
  • Have four (4) years of substantive paralegal experience on or before December 31, 2000.  [2]

Paralegals that pass the PACE exam are recognized as Registered Paralegals and may use the RP® designation. To maintain credentialing, RP® paralegals are required to obtain 12 hours of continuing legal education every two years. One of the qualifying hours must include an ethics component.

The Illinois Paralegal Association (IPA) offers the Illinois Paralegal Association Voluntary Accredited Plan for the Illinois Accredited Paralegal (ILAP) credential. This voluntary accreditation was proposed in late 2012 by the IPA. The purpose of this plan was to be a “benchmark to determine qualified individuals to provide legal services under the supervision of an attorney.” [3] To apply for the ILAP credential, an individual must be a regular member of the IPA in good standing and meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Attend an accredited institution
  • A masters or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies and one year of substantive paralegal experience; or
  • A masters or bachelor’s degree in any discipline plus a certificate in paralegal studies and one year of substantive paralegal experience; or
  • A masters or bachelor’s degree in any discipline and three years of substantive paralegal experience; or
  • An associate’s degree in paralegal studies and two years substantive paralegal experience; or
  • An associate’s degree in any discipline with a certificate in paralegal studies and two years substantive paralegal experience; or
  • An associate’s degree in any discipline and three years substantive paralegal experience; or
  • Certificate in paralegal studies and four years substantive paralegal experience; or
  • Five years substantive paralegal experience; or
  • Designated Certified Legal Assistant (CLA), Certified Paralegal (CP), or any other paralegal credential recognized by the Illinois Paralegal Association.

Once a paralegal has been accepted by the IPA Committee, they may use the ILAP designation after their name. To maintain this designation paralegal is required to obtain 12 hours of continuing legal education which includes two of the twelve hours in ethics[4].

The National Federation of Paralegals developed a Paralegal CORE Competency Examination (PCCE) in November 2011. The purpose was to acknowledge early career level paralegals and access their knowledge and skills. Once a paralegal has passed this examination, they may use the CRP credential.[5]

After the paralegal has successfully completed the advanced credentialing, there are many ways to earn the continuing legal education credits. Several organizations provide the opportunity to earn CLE’s; listed below are just a few recommendations.

DuPage County Bar Association: Through membership paralegals can maintain whatever credentialing status they need through the various CLE programs offered for paralegals. The DCBA also offers various programs for attorneys in which paralegals may attend and receive CLE credits. It is a great opportunity to network and learn from each other new and exciting ways to stay ahead of the ever changing fields of law in which they specialize.

Illinois Paralegal Association: This association maintains a member base in excess of 1500 paralegals throughout the State. It offers both fall and spring educational seminars. Membership to this organization is not required to attend the conferences however fees are higher for non-members.

Illinois State Bar Association: (ISBA): The ISBA allows paralegals to become members of the association, but they must be sponsored by an ISBA member, work with that member on a daily basis, in the member’s legal office.

American Bar Association: (ABA); The ABA allows paralegals to become an associate member. 

National Business Institute (NBI) and Institute for Paralegal Education (IPE): These organizations offer both live and on-line seminars for legal professionals. Some courses are directed toward paralegals, while others to all legal professionals on various subjects.

American Association for Justice (AJJ): In 1990 this association began to offer affiliate memberships to paralegals. It also provides opportunities for its paralegal members to obtain CLE’s.

Regardless of which path a paralegal chooses to standout in the crowd, Professional development should be first and foremost a common goal among paralegals to go the extra mile to promote knowledge, integrity and advancement for the profession. Attorneys as well should promote professional development for paralegals in their employ to maintain a thriving practice.

[1] National Association of Legal Assistants, (NALA) Issues Related to Licensure and Governmental Regulation of Paralegals,

[2] National Federation of Paralegals Association (NFPA) About the Paralegal
Competency Exam® (PACE®),

[3] Illinois Paralegal Association (IPA)

[4] Illinois Paralegal Association (IPA),

[5] National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) Paralegal Certification-Paralegal CORE Competency Exam and Credentialing,

Janet Fuson is the current Chairperson of the Paralegal Committee for the DuPage County Bar Association, Past Vice President of the Paralegal Club at College of DuPage, and a member of IPA and NFPA. She is a graduate of College of DuPage with an Associate’s degree in Paralegal Studies, and is currently attending Lewis University working on a bachelor’s degree in Paralegal Studies. Janet is employed in Intellectual Property Law with Erickson Law Group, PC.

Mary Kay Lieberman, RP®, ILAP, is the current Vice Chairperson of the Paralegal Committee of the DuPage County Bar Association as well as past president of the IPA, AAJ Affiliate member and NFPA. She is a graduate of The American Institute for Paralegal Studies at Wheaton College. Mary Kay is the owner of MK Paralegal Services, providing paralegal services to plaintiff’s attorneys.

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