Washington State Online Paralegal Certificate: Getting Started
Although the titles have previously been used interchangeably, it is of value to note that as of February 2020, the terms ''paralegal'' and ''legal assistant'' are no longer used by the American Bar Association to identify the same professions. The information in this article is for paralegals specifically.
The state of Washington has no statewide proficiency examination requirement, and as such there is no state acknowledgment of a certified paralegal. Rather, one who has completed a recognized course of study receives a certificate of completion and is thus considered ''certificated''. While the ABA has a voluntary approval process for paralegal programs of study, it is not necessary for a program to have this approval in order for one completing a recognized course of study to become certificated. However, it would be prudent to ensure that your online paralegal certificate program of choice is approved by the ABA and/or covers competencies outlined by the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) so that you receive training in the core paralegal competencies you need to succeed as a paralegal.
What to Expect from an Online Paralegal Certificate Program
When searching for an online paralegal certificate program, the AAfPE recommends that any program should include thorough academic studies in the following areas:
- Critical thinking skills
- Organizational skills
- General communication skills
- Legal research skills
- Legal writing skills
- Computer skills
- Interviewing and investigation skills
- The paralegal profession and ethical obligation
- Law office management skills
In order to learn the components of the above listed skills, you should be prepared to spend some time on campus for traditional classroom instruction, as required by for ABA program approval. Programs in Washington state are usually in hybrid formats.
Legal Research and Writing
Legal research and writing courses provide students with foundational knowledge in these areas as well as the analytical skills needed for effective communication as it concerns legal issues. Coursework may include instruction in locating and analyzing key cases and codes, updating legal research results, preparing various correspondences, and composing legal memoranda.
Civil Procedure and Litigation
This course prepares paralegals to fulfil their duties in the matters of civil litigation. Likely topics may include pleadings and motions, discovery of evidence, and alternatives to litigation. The processes of lawsuits are addressed, particularly as they pertain to the state of Washington and its litigation procedures.
Utilizing guidelines set forth by the ABA and the National Association of Legal Assistants, ethics coursework generally covers the responsibilities and limits of paralegal duties within the parameters of the practice of law. Along with the Washington Rules of Professional Conduct, an exploration of ethics in the real-world may also be covered in this course.
While completing a certificate program confers the status of certificated, there are two additional exams offered through the National Federation of Paralegal Associates (NFPA) that provide paralegals with two separate credentials that confirm your education has prepared you for an array of paralegal work.
One exam is the Paralegal CORE Competency Exam. Passing the PCCE means that paralegals can display CRP after their name as a professional credential. The Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam is for paralegals with a relevant educational background and years of professional work experience. Completion of the PACE means that paralegals may display the RP designation after their name. Both credentials require Continuing Legal Education (CLE). Certification is also offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants and NALA to applicants who meet education and/or work experience requirements.
Hybrid Paralegal Certificate Programs in Washington State
In Washington State, certificate programs commonly require between around a year to a year and a half of dedicated study time before completion. These programs commonly require an undergraduate degree for admission.
University of Washington
Located in Seattle, UW's paralegal studies certificate program offers evening and online classes. The 11- or 17-month curriculum provides solid foundational scholarship in the U.S. legal system, the court systems, trials and laws, legal technology, and more. Admission to the program requires a bachelor's degree, college-level English composition coursework, and applicable professional skills (project management, attention to detail, etc.). This program is also approved by the Limited License Legal Technician Board of the Washington State Bar Association to provide the core curriculum needed to become an LLLT. Unlike paralegals, LLLTs are licensed by the state of Washington to advise clients involved in family law matters like divorce and child custody.
Edmonds Community College
Edmonds is located in Lynnwood, WA. The college features a hybrid, 40-credit-hour Advanced Paralegal Certificate program that is approved by the ABA. Applicants must either already have a bachelor's degree or complete a bachelor's degree by the end of their certificate studies. A minimum of 15 legal credits must be earned on campus in a traditional classroom structure.
Tacoma Community College
TCC has a paralegal certificate program that consists of hybrid, online, and on-campus courses. The Paralegal Preferred Pro-Certificate requires an undergraduate degree for admission or previous experience in the legal field. This 53-credit program lasts one year.
Career Info for a Washington State Paralegal Certificate
Paralegals perform legal work, including research and writing, for lawyers and law offices but do not offer any sort of legal counsel. The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) predicts a 12% job growth for paralegals and legal assistants between 2018-2028. While on-the-job training may be an option in some instances, having an associate degree or a bachelor's degree and certificate in paralegal studies is a standard professional requirement.
The paralegal profession continues to grow and is doing so at a rate faster than average. Because the average paralegal already has a post-baccalaureate certificate or associate degree in paralegal studies, enrolling in a paralegal program may provide a competitive edge that can be acquired in less than two years.