FAQ


I AM A MEMBER. HOW DO I ACCESS THE MEMBERS ONLY AREA ON THE WEBSITE?

In 2013, SDPA upgraded its website. Every member will have to re-create their membership profile. This means you will have to create a username and password. To access the members’ only area, click on the “Members Area” tab. Once the page loads, a registration form will appear. Fill out the form completely and submit your information. If any of the information is not entered correctly, the website will reject your information. Once your information is submitted, our Membership Chair will approve or deny your membership based on your current SDPA membership status. Please allow 1-2 weeks for processing.

WHAT IS A PARALEGAL?

Pursuant to California Business & Professions Code § 6450(a),

‘[p]aralegal‘ means a person who holds himself or herself out to be a paralegal, who is qualified by education, training, or work experience, who either contracts with or is employed by an attorney, law firm, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity, and who performs substantial legal work under the direction and supervision of an active member of the State Bar of California, as defined in Section 6060, or an attorney practicing law in the federal courts of this state, that has been specifically delegated by the attorney to him or her…
The following definition was adopted by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) membership in 1986:
Legal assistants, also known as paralegals, are a distinguishable group of persons who assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services. Through formal education, training and experience, legal assistants have knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system and substantive and procedural law which qualify them to do work of a legal nature under the supervision of an attorney.
In recognition of the similarity of the definitions and the need for one clear definition, in July 2001, the NALA membership approved a resolution to adopt the definition of the American Bar Association (ABA) as well. The ABA definition reads as follows:
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 who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.
As defined by the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAFPE):
Paralegals 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.
As defined by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA),
…a [p]aralegal is a person, qualified through education, training or work experience to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer. This person may be retained or employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity or may be authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority to perform this work. Substantive shall mean work requiring recognition, evaluation, organization, analysis, and communication of relevant facts and legal concepts.

IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A LEGAL ASSISTANT AND A PARALEGAL?

Pursuant to California Business & Professions Code § 6454, the terms “paralegal,” “legal assistant,” “attorney assistant,” “freelance paralegal,” “independent paralegal,” and “contract paralegal” are synonymous.

WHAT DOES A PARALEGAL DO?

The tasks performed by paralegals vary by attorney, offices, and the specialized area of law in which you work. It is highly probable your duties will include all or some of the below, with variations, depending on the situation. Under California Business & Professions Code § 6450(a), tasks performed by a paralegal include, but are not limited to:
…case planning, development, and management; legal research; interviewing clients; fact gathering and retrieving information; drafting and analyzing legal documents; collecting, compiling, and utilizing technical information to make an independent decision and recommendation to the supervising attorney; and representing clients before a state or federal administrative agency if that representation is permitted by statute, court rule, or administrative rule or regulation.

WHAT ARE THINGS A PARALEGAL CANNOT DO?

Pursuant to California Business & Professions Code § 6450(b), a paralegal shall not do the following:
(1) Provide legal advice.
(2) Represent a client in court.
(3) Select, explain, draft, or recommend the use of any legal document to or for any person other than the attorney who directs and supervises the paralegal.
(4) Act as a runner or capper, as defined in Sections 6151 and 6152.
(5) Engage in conduct that constitutes the unlawful practice of law.
(6) Contract with, or be employed by, a natural person other than an attorney to perform paralegal services.
(7) In connection with providing paralegal services, induce a person to make an investment, purchase a financial product or service, or enter a transaction from which income or profit, or both, purportedly may be derived.
(8) Establish the fees to charge a client for the services the paralegal performs, which shall be established by the attorney who supervises the paralegal’s work. This paragraph does not apply to fees charged by a paralegal in a contract to provide paralegal services to an attorney, law firm, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity as provided in subdivision (a).

DO I NEED TO ATTEND AN ABA APPROVED PROGRAM ?

No, so long as you fulfill any of the other requirements listed under California Business & Professions Code § 6450 (c).

WHERE CAN I ATTEND A PARALEGAL EDUCATION PROGRAM IN SAN DIEGO?

Each school listed below has certification or degree programs available. Refer to the school program for more information related to full time and part time programs, classes, and tuition/fee amounts. * denotes an ABA-approved program.

• University of San Diego Paralegal Program* (http://www.sandiego.edu/paralegal)

• University of California, San Diego* (http://extension.ucsd.edu/paralegal)

• Cuyamaca College* (http://www.cuyamaca.edu/paralegal)

• San Diego Miramar College* (http://www.sdmiramar.edu/instruction/LEGL/)

• Southwestern College (http://www.swccd.edu/Pdfs/Catalog/ParalegalStudies.pdf)

• San Diego City College (http://www.sdcity.edu/catalog/LegalAssistantParalegal_city2007-2008.pdf)

Additionally, there are numerous online paralegal programs that you can also attend.

WHAT IS AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION (“ABA”) APPROVED MEAN?

Founded in 1878, the ABA is one of the world’s largest voluntary professional organizations. In order to obtain ABA approval, a school must pass through an intensive review and on-site evaluation. Once the school successfully completes the evaluation process, it is approved for seven years and is required to submit interim reports to ensure that it continues to comply with the ABA guidelines. For more information on the ABA, please visit their website (http://www.americanbar.org/aba.html).
Please note that not all employers require an ABA-approved paralegal certificate or degree; however, when you apply to firms that do, you will find that you’ve limited yourself by not meeting that requirement.

WHAT IF I COME FROM ANOTHER STATE TO WORK IN CALIFORNIA? CAN I QUALIFY UNDER CODE?

A paralegal coming from another state may work in California as a paralegal so long as the educational requirements are met.

HOW DO I GET MY FIRST PARALEGAL JOB?

There are a variety of methods you can use to get your foot in the door. Below are ideas on what you can do.
• Internships are a great way to introduce yourself and showcase your talents to potential employers. Employers love someone who will work for free or little pay in exchange for valuable work experience. It may also lead to full-time work when you finish school or when an opportunity opens up. You will also gain invaluable experience working in a law firm or for an attorney. Always remember to work as if you are being paid top dollar even though you are working for little pay or for free. Some local paralegal programs also have an internship requirement built into the program too. Check with your school to see if they offer any internship opportunities. Contact local attorneys or firms for internship opportunities they have available.
• Temporary work through a staffing agency is also a good way to gain experience, contacts, and resources, as well as develop relationships that provide long-term benefits. Many jobs are still found by word-of-mouth.
• Networking is also great way to meet the practicing paralegals in your area. These paralegals are great mentors and may know of immediate openings which can help guide you while looking for your first job. If you do not know many people in the legal profession yet, talk to friends or family members. Chances are, they may know someone in the legal field and can forward along your resume. Do not underestimate the benefits of job fairs which can provide you with the opportunity to hand out your resume to numerous placement agencies. You can talk to the people at the agencies about how to improve your resume, interviewing techniques, current hiring practices, and current job openings. You can also meet and talk with other people who are looking for jobs or who are currently practicing paralegals.
• Consider taking a receptionist, legal secretary, or file clerk position as your first legal job. It may lead to a promotion down the road and you can still get the experience in the meantime. This is also a way to show an employer your dedication and eagerness to get into the legal field, as well as your ability to be a team player. Do not forget to tell potential employers about any prior work experience in other industries. Regardless of your past position or industry, you learned and developed many professional skills that may supplement your legal education and training which will provide added benefit to your potential legal employer. As you conduct your job search, look beyond the traditional law firm paralegal role. Many positions in business and government involve the interpretation and application of legal principles, as well as the ability to write and perform research. This is where job growth in the paralegal profession is occurring. While these jobs may not be listed as “paralegal” in the want ads, the job functions and responsibilities often require legal knowledge, as well as organizational, analytical, and judgment skills. Today, some form of government regulator or policy affects almost every business. Survey the businesses in your area and target positions likely to benefit from your legal experience and training.

HOW MUCH MONEY WILL I MAKE?

Salary and benefits vary according to education, experience, law firm size, and area of law. There are a number of salary surveys published periodically by the National Association of Legal Assistants, Robert Half Legal, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook and Wage Information for Paralegals and Legal Assistants.

WHAT IS NALA?

The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) is the leading professional association for legal assistants and paralegals, providing continuing education and professional development programs. Incorporated in 1975, NALA is an integral part of the legal community, working to improve the quality and effectiveness of the delivery of legal services. NALA is composed of over 18,000 paralegals, through individual members and its 90 state and local affiliated associations. For more information, please go to http://www.nala.org/.

WHAT IS CAPA?

California Alliance of Paralegal Associations (CAPA) is a statewide non-profit, mutual benefit corporation dedicated to the advancement of the paralegal profession and the proposition that paralegals gain strength through alliance. CAPA represents California paralegals working in attorney-supervised settings, CAPA supports, encourages, and promotes an active relationship among its affiliated member associations, attorneys, national, state and local Bar Associations, and others in the legal community. For more information, please go to http://www.caparalegal.org/.

WHAT IS NFPA?

Founded in 1974, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) was the first national paralegal association. Created as a non-profit federation, NFPA is an issues-driven, policy-oriented professional association directed by its membership. It is comprised of more than 50 member associations and represents over 11,000 individual members reflecting a broad range of experience, education, and diversity. NFPA’s Mission Statement and Core Purpose delineate its dedication to the advancement of the paralegal profession and leadership in the legal community. For more information, please go to http://www.paralegals.org/.

WHAT IS AAPI?

The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI) was formed in 2003 by a group of paralegals who wanted to promote and improve the paralegal profession; to advance the educational and literary standard of the paralegal profession; and to foster, encourage and disseminate information concerning the paralegal profession. For more information, please go to http://www.aapipara.org/.

WHAT IS CLE OR MCLE ?

CLE stands for Continuing Legal Education and MCLE stands for Mandatory Continuing Legal Education. Both phrases can be used interchangeably. According to the ABA, attorneys are required to take a certain number of hours of educational courses over a period of time in order to maintain a valid bar license. The CLE/MCLE requirements vary from state to state for attorneys. California Business & Professions Code § 6450(d) requires paralegals to maintain a certain number of CLE/MCLE hours.

WHAT DOES GENERAL OR SPECIALIZED CONTINUING LEGAL EDUCATION MEAN?

General or specialized education refers to legal topics related to various areas of law, such as civil litigation, estate planning, probate, or family law. It can be related to professional development or emerging trends in the legal field.

HOW DO I DETERMINE WHEN I SHOULD START MY CONTINUING EDUCATION?

Under California Business & Professions Code § 6450(d), all paralegals are required to participate in CLE as follows:
Every two years, commencing January 1, 2007, any person that is working as a paralegal shall be required to certify completion of four hours of mandatory continuing legal education in legal ethics and four hours of mandatory continuing legal education in either general law or in an area of specialized law. All continuing legal education courses shall meet the requirements of Section 6070.

WHAT TYPES OF CONTINUING EDUCATION COURSES QUALIFY UNDER CALIFORNIA BUSINESS & PROFESSIONS CODE § 6450?

California Business & Professions Code § 6070 states that only courses offered by the State Bar of California or by a State Bar approved MCLE provider are recognized when considering MCLE credit hours earned. If accredited by the State Bar of California, the following are permitted:

• “Live” Education, i.e. participating in panel discussions, question and answer periods, and a classroom setting where the teacher is in the room with the attendee.

• “Electronic Education,” such as audiotape, videotape, CD-ROM or CD, online media including video or audio streaming, or other media.

• Satellite and Teleconference CLE

• University/Law School Courses

• Self-study education

• Writing legal articles for publications

DO I HAVE TO SUBMIT PROOF OF MY CLE HOURS ?

No. In California, there is no reporting or monitoring compliance requirement. According to California Business & Professions Code § 6450(d), “Certification of these continuing education requirements shall be made with the paralegal’s supervising attorney. The paralegal shall be responsible for keeping a record of the paralegal’s certifications.” If you are a Certified Paralegal, you may have to report to the professional association in which you received your certification (i.e. NALA, NFPA, AAPI) of the CLE hours you have completed within a specified time frame in order to maintain certified status. Please refer to the relevant association for its requirements.

WHAT ARE THE CONTINUING EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS FOR PARALEGALS IN CALIFORNIA?

Under California Business & Professions Code § 6450(d), every two years, a paralegal must, “[c]ertify completion of four hours of mandatory continuing legal education in legal ethics and four hours of mandatory continuing legal education in either general law or in an area of specialized law.

WHAT ARE THE EDUCATIONAL AND WORK EXPERIENCE REQUIREMENTS FOR PARALEGALS IN CALIFORNIA?

Under California Business & Professions Code § 6450(c):
A paralegal shall possess at least one of the following:
(1) A certificate of completion of a paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association.
(2) A certificate of completion of a paralegal program at, or a degree from, a postsecondary institution that requires the successful completion of a minimum of 24 semester, or equivalent, units in law-related courses and that has been accredited by a national or regional accrediting organization or approved by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education.
(3) A baccalaureate degree or an advanced degree in any subject, a minimum of one year of law-related experience under the supervision of an attorney who has been an active member of the State Bar of California for at least the preceding three years or who has practiced in the federal courts of this state for at least the preceding three years, and a written declaration from this attorney stating that the person is qualified to perform paralegal tasks.
(4) A high school diploma or general equivalency diploma, a minimum of three years of law-related experience under the supervision of an attorney who has been an active member of the State Bar of California for at least the preceding three years or who has practiced in the federal courts of this state for at least the preceding three years, and a written declaration from this attorney stating that the person is qualified to perform paralegal tasks…

WHO REGULATES PARALEGALS IN CALIFORNIA?

Currently, there is no entity regulating paralegals. A paralegal in California is responsible for acting ethically and maintaining the appropriate educational and work experience requirements, along with the CLE requirements outlined in California Business & Professions Code §§ 6450-6456. However, under California Business & Professions Code § 6451, “It is unlawful for a paralegal to perform any services except under the direction and supervision of the attorney, law firm, corporation, government agency, or other entity that employs or contracts with the paralegal.” Under California Business & Professions Code § 6452(a), “[i]t is unlawful for a person to identify himself or herself as a paralegal on any advertisement, letterhead, business card or sign, or elsewhere unless he or she has met the qualifications of subdivision (c) of Section 6450…”
Additionally, under California Business & Professions Code § 6452(b),an attorney who uses the services of a paralegal is liable for any harm caused as the result of the paralegal’s negligence, misconduct, or violation of this chapter. Finally, California Business & Professions Code § 6455(a) states:
[a]ny consumer injured by a violation of this chapter may file a complaint and seek redress in superior court for injunctive relief, restitution, and damages. Attorney’s fees shall be awarded in this action to the prevailing plaintiff.
Further, Subsection (b) states:
[a]ny person who violates the provisions of Section 6451 or 6452 is guilty of an infraction for the first violation, which is punishable upon conviction by a fine of up to two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500) as to each consumer with respect to whom a violation occurs, and is guilty of a misdemeanor for the second and each subsequent violation, which is punishable upon conviction by a fine of two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500) as to each consumer with respect to whom a violation occurs, or imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment. Any person convicted of a violation of this section shall be ordered by the court to pay restitution to the victim pursuant to Section 1202.4 of the Penal Code.

WHAT IS CALIFORNIA AB 1761?

In January 2000, Assembly Members Marilyn Brewer and Rod Pacheco introduced Assembly Bill 1761 to establish the qualifications for practice as a paralegal and make it unlawful for any person to identify himself or herself as a paralegal unless he or she meets those qualifications and performs all services under the direct supervision of an active member of the State Bar of California. The Bill also makes a paralegal subject to the same confidentiality requirements as an attorney. The bill also sought to make it unlawful for a paralegal to perform any services for a consumer, except as directed by an attorney or entity employing or contracting with the paralegal. Furthermore, it prohibited a paralegal from performing various acts, including giving legal advice, representing a client in court, and acting as a runner or capper. The Bill also made an attorney using a paralegal’s services liable for the negligence or misconduct of the paralegal. Finally, the Bill provided for the recovery of attorney’s fees in a civil action brought in connection with a violation of these provisions. The Bill was codified and signed by Gov. Gray Davis in September 2000 and was effective as California Business and Professions Code § 6450, et seq. on January 1, 2004.

MAY A PARALEGAL WORK DIRECTLY FOR THE PUBLIC?

No. Under California Business & Professions Code § 6450(a), paralegals work “under the direction and supervision of an active member of the State Bar of California, as defined in Section 6060, or an attorney practicing law in the federal courts of [California].”

HOW IMPORTANT IS CONFIDENTIALITY IN THE PARALEGAL PROFESSION?

Extremely! Under California Business & Professions Code § 6453, “[a] paralegal is subject to the same duty as an attorney specified in subdivision (e) of Section 6068 to maintain inviolate the confidentiality, and at every peril to himself or herself to preserve the attorney-client privilege, of a consumer for whom the paralegal has provided any of the services described in subdivision (a) of Section 6450.”

WHAT IS A CERTIFIED PARALEGAL?

Established in 1976 by NALA, the CLA (Certified Legal Assistant) program has enabled the profession to develop a strong and responsive self-regulatory program offering a nationwide credential for legal assistants. Over 26,000 paralegals nationwide have participated in this program. Use of the CP (Certified Paralegal) credential signifies a paralegal is capable of providing superior services to firms and corporations. National surveys consistently show Certified Paralegals are better utilized in a field where attorneys are looking for a credible and dependable way to measure ability. CLA and CP refer to the same credential. The credential has been recognized by the American Bar Association as a designation which marks a high level of professional achievement. The credential has also been recognized by over 47 legal assistant organizations and numerous bar associations.

WHAT IS AN ADVANCED CERTIFIED PARALEGAL (ACP) ?

In 1982, NALA instituted the CLA Specialty (CLAS) program, an advanced certification for those with the general certification, to recognize specialized knowledge and assist in career development. Twenty years after the institution of the CLA Specialty program, a special task force was appointed to look at the specialty program and see if changes were needed. The Task Force determined it was time to redesign and restructure the program. The result was the Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) program. The APC Board sought a program that would better serve experienced paralegals wishing to enter new areas of practice, as well as paralegals seeking advanced credentials in their practice areas. In 2006, NALA unveiled a new web-based format for the APC program. To receive the ACP credential, all candidates must be Certified Legal Assistants/Paralegals (CLA/CP) in good standing and: 1) Submit a completed learning contract for each APC course taken within 30 days of enrollment. The learning contract asks candidates for certification to outline learning objectives for the course and reviews information about self-directed learning; 2) Complete all modules and exercises in the course and all course requirements; 3) Submit a completed statement of completion to advise the board the course work is completed, discuss how learning objectives were met, and request the award of the credential. The APC Board is considering a wide range of possibilities for other programs. Each program will be designed to reflect the work of paralegals in specific practice areas. The Board will seek input from CLAS and NALA members, review survey data, and other information to determine additional programs. For more information, please go to http://www.nala.org/apcweb/index.html.

WHAT IS A CALIFORNIA ADVANCED SPECIALIST (CAS)?

The California Advanced Specialty program was created in 1994 through an agreement between the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the California Alliance of Paralegal Associations (CAPA). The Commission for Advanced California Paralegal Specialization, Inc. (Commission) was created as the entity to oversee, develop and implement the California Advanced Specialist Examination Program in order to certify qualifying paralegals as having advanced knowledge in a specialty area of law based on California statutory and procedural requirements and case law. The Commission works closely with both NALA and CAPA to implement the goals of paralegals in California to maintain a paralegal advanced certification program. A California Advanced Specialists (CAS) is a paralegal/legal assistant who has successfully completed the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) examination and the California Advanced Specialty (CAS) examination offered by the Commission for Advanced California Paralegal Specialization (CACPS). CACPS is currently revising its test-taking methods and is preparing web-based examinations to mirror that of NALA’s Advanced Certified Paralegal online exams. The first online examination, California Discovery, was prepared in April 2008. The online assessment is comprised of three modules that are an addition to NALA’s Advanced Paralegal Certification Program in Discovery. The California portion highlights the differences between Federal and California discovery laws and procedures. A Certified Paralegal (CLA/CP) who successfully passes the discovery online assessment will earn the credential ACP/CAS. Paralegals that do not have the CLA/CP certification are welcome to participate in these advanced specialty programs, but the credentials will not be awarded. Other CAS assessments under development include personal injury, real property litigation, probate and trust administration, corporations, trusts & estates, and corporate business law. The course is a presentation of text and slides, divided into 10-15 modules consisting of 12 pages each. There is a test after each module, which consists of multiple choice and true/false questions. The program will tell you what is incorrect and include a link back to a page for more study and review. You must receive a 90% on all modules to pass. If you do not receive a 90% score, you will be required to repeat the modules until the score is achieved. The retake of the modules will have different questions from the first test. For more information, please go to http://www.cla-cas.org/.

WHY SHOULD I TAKE AN EXAM TO BE CERTIFIED?

NALA best describes the reasons to be certified below:
NALA CLA/CP program establishes and serves as: 1) National professional standard for legal assistants; 2) Means of identifying those who have reached this standard; 3) Credentialing program responsive to the needs of legal assistants and responsive to the fact that this form of self-regulation is necessary to strengthen and expand development of this career field; and 4) Positive, ongoing, voluntary program to encourage the growth of the legal assistant profession, attesting to and encouraging a high level of achievement.”
Becoming a certified paralegal signifies that a legal assistant is capable of providing superior services to firms and corporations. National surveys consistently show Certified Paralegals are better paid and utilized in a field where attorneys are looking for a credible and dependable way to measure ability. The credential has been recognized by the ABA as a designation which marks a high level of professional achievement. Additionally, if you move from California, attorneys in other states recognize the certified paralegal distinction which enables you to find a job more quickly. The CLA/CP credential has also been recognized by over 47 legal assistant organizations and numerous bar associations. In 2006 and 2007, standards for paralegal certification state entities were announced in Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio. The Paralegal Division of the State Bar of Texas also offers a voluntary state certification program.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CERTIFICATED AND CERTIFIED?

“Certificated” means a paralegal has earned a certificate or diploma from a school or program when he or she has successfully completed the necessary paralegal education and training. “Certified” means a paralegal has earned an additional distinction by taking a specialized examination of various legal topics based on experience and education. Once a paralegal becomes certified, he or she may need to earn, on a continuing basis, a certain number of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) hours in order to maintain the certified status. Presently, there are three professional organizations offering certification exams:

• National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers the Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal (CLA/CP) exam (http://www.nala.org/cert.htm)

• National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) offers the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam/Registered Paralegal (PACE/RP) exam (http://www.paralegals.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=888)

• American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI) offers the American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) exam (http://www.aapipara.org/Certification.htm)

Bear in mind this distinction is confusing to many employers. Employers sometimes advertise for a certified paralegal when what they are really looking for is a paralegal with a paralegal certificate. Regardless, certification is recommended because in some highly competitive markets employers prefer or even require it. When evaluating paralegal programs or other training programs, keep in mind the requirements you will have to meet in order to receive paralegal certification.

DO I HAVE TO BE CERTIFIED TO WORK AS A PARALEGAL?

No. The exams to become certified are voluntary.