Understanding The Different Paralegal Credentials

A career in the legal field is in reach without needing to go through law school. Obtaining a paralegal certificate opens doors to an industry that is growing by 12% per year and adding over 40,000 new positions in the next decade.

However, anyone interested in joining an offline or online paralegal program to become a paralegal will find that there’s a lot to consider.

In this blog, you’ll find out information about the following:

  • • What’s the Difference Between Certificate, Certification and Certified?
  • • What’s the Difference Between ABA-accredited and ABA-approved Programs?
  • • Certified Legal Assistant / Certified Paralegal (CLA/CP) vs. Accredited Legal Professional (ALP)

Is There A Difference Between A Paralegal Certificate & Certification?

A paralegal certificate isn’t the end of your path to becoming a certified paralegal. Instead, your certificate demonstrates that you’ve completed a paralegal education program. The next step in the process is to become certified.

Once you complete an offline or online paralegal program, you will receive your certificate that signifies that you’ve completed your paralegal studies and can then take exam(s) to become:

  • • CLP/CP certified
  • • ALP certified

Certification involves passing an exam, often the CLP/CP or ALP. If you pass either of these exams, you’re then a certified paralegal and have the right to use the respective designation after your name and call yourself a certified paralegal.

Law firms often look highly on certifications because they demonstrate your willingness to become an integral part of the legal field.

Certification is often not required to become a paralegal, but requirements may vary from state to state. Rather, certification allows you to:

  • • Specialize in certain areas of law
  • • Advance your career with greater ease

Now that you understand the confusing terminology of certificate, certified and certification, let’s learn a little bit about ABA-accredited and ABA-approved programs.

What’s The Difference Between ABA-Accredited & ABA-Approved Programs? 

Paralegal programs may or may not come with ABA accreditation or approval. While anything to do with the ABA looks good to law firms, from a student perspective, you just want to ensure that the program you enter is fully accredited, even if this means not accredited by the ABA.

Most programs will outline how many credits it takes to complete your program.

Does the ABA Accredit Programs?

No. As of the time of writing this article, the ABA doesn’t offer accreditation to paralegal programs despite some misconceptions that they do.

What is ABA-Approved?

When you see a paralegal certificate program state that it’s “ABA-approved,” it simply means that the program meets the stringent requirements of the ABA. Programs that are approved must go through a voluntary approval process, which includes course curriculum of 60 semester hours or more.

Many programs work to help you get into the paralegal field faster, with 40 – 45 semester hours being required by most programs.

With that said, in the United States, just 22% of paralegal programs are ABA-approved, and the students that go to non-approved programs are still found in some of the largest law firms in the country.

What Matters If There’s No ABA-Approval?

Ideally, you’ll search out a paralegal program that focuses on core paralegal studies and is offered through a school that is accredited and well-known. High academic standards are crucial when choosing a paralegal program because they ensure that you’re able to receive the education necessary to work at some of the best law firms in the country.

Certified Legal Assistant / Certified Paralegal (CLA/CP) vs. Accredited Legal Professional (ALP)

Once you complete your paralegal certificate requirements, you can opt to pass a certification exam to be a certified paralegal or an accredited legal professional. The two main certifications that you’ll want to consider are:

  1. 1. Certified Legal Assistant / Certified Paralegal (CLA/CP)
  2. 2. Accredited Legal Professional (ALP)

You’ll want to be sure that upon completion of the paralegal program you choose, you can sit for either of these exams. Our program does meet these requirements, with many of our students sitting for these exams each year.

What is a CLP/CP Certification?

The CP certification is a highly respected certification in the legal field with great recognition. NALA is in charge of the certification, which is recognized by the following:

  • • American Bar Association (ABA)
  • • National Commission for Certifying Agencies

Due to the recognition of the CP program, it’s often one of the first certifications that paralegals will seek out. If you opt to take the exam to become certified, you’ll be on your way to obtaining a certification that is:

  • • Marked for excellence by the ABA
  • • Acknowledged by 47 paralegal organizations
  • • Encourages growth in the paralegal industry

However, you can also obtain an ALP certification.

What is an ALP Certification?

An Accredited Legal Professional (ALP) shows that you’re ready to enter the field of law. The certification requires you to complete:

  • • Accredited legal or business course
  • • NALS legal training course

You’ll also need to have one year of general office experience to sit for the exam. The exam is broken down into three main parts: Communication, Legal Procedures and Knowledge, and Legal Ethics and Authority.

You do not need to be a NALS member to obtain your certification.

The ALP certification is another leading certification that can help you stand out amongst other job applicants.

However, these are not the only certifications that you can seek. If you want to continue adding certifications to your resume and enhance your career further, you can do so with the following:

  • • CORE Registered Paralegal (CRP)
  • • American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP)
  • • Advanced Paralegal Certification (APC)
  • • Professional Paralegal (PP)

Entering the legal industry as a paralegal allows you to work alongside lawyers in some of the top law firms in the country. Since the field is rapidly growing and demand is high, you’ll find an abundance of job opportunities that offer great salaries and benefit options.

Click here to learn more about our online paralegal program.


Washington Technical Institute’s self-paced, fully online Paralegal Certificates can be completed in 12 months or fewer, with daily start dates. Such flexible start dates makes this program unique and much more accessible for our students. An additional benefit of WTI’s programs is that we offer affordable pricing and monthly payments to help our students leave school without debt. 

Although our goal is to help our students graduate from their programs with little to no debt, we also recognize that some students might need to utilize a loan for their educational investment. We are excited to announce our partnerships with Climb Credit and Ascent, student lending companies focused on financing career-building programs. 

If you’re ready to enroll and start your training to become a paralegal, you can register for your program online through our website. Still have questions about our programs? Feel free to call us at 800-371-5581 or text us at 952-465-3702. Our admissions specialists will be happy answer whatever questions you have.

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Advance your education with an accredited certificate program from Washington Technical Institute (WTI). WTI is Regionally accredited by the Middle States Association CESS, and licensed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education as an institution of higher learning.

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Washington Technical Institute is Regionally accredited by the Middle States Association CESS, and licensed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education as an institution of higher learning.