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Ohio's New Paralegal Certification Program

published July 31, 2006

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( 60 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
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The Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA) announced at the end of June that it was implementing a new paralegal certification program. The program will not only make it easier for attorneys to hire well-trained legal staff, but will also bring professional esteem to paralegals in the state.

Right now, there is nothing in Ohio that prevents any individual from calling themselves a paralegal," said OSBA Spokeswoman Kalpana Yalamanchili in a Business First of Columbus article.

The problem with an individual calling him or herself a paralegal when he or she has not been properly trained or certified comes when these individuals are hired. Not only is it a waste of time and energy to hire a person and then find out that he or she has not been trained in the profession, but hiring an unqualified paralegal also increases the likelihood of the unlicensed practice of law (UPL).

Being a paralegal is not easy. Dealing up close and personal with the law, paralegals have to know exactly what they can and can't do; or they could get both themselves and the attorneys at their firm into major trouble. Similarly, by posing as paralegals, these people are doing a disservice not only to the attorneys at their firm, but also to the firm's clients as well.

In essence, it's not a profession that should be faked; and Ohio's new paralegal certification program will do away with many of the impostors.

"[C]lients and the public will know that these paralegals meet uniform standards of professionalism," bar President Jane Taylor said in a press release.

In order to complete the certification program, Ohio paralegals will have to pass an exam, comply with certain educational requirements, and have a certain amount of experience. However, paralegals have to prove that they have the required educational background and experience before they will even be admitted to take the exam. The certification will then be valid for four years, and paralegals with the certification will be referred to as "OSBA Certified Paralegals."

Requirements for the exam can be met in four ways. The first one is a combination of a bachelor's degree, completion of a paralegal studies program, and one year of working as a paralegal. The second option is a bachelor's degree or an associate's degree in paralegal studies and three years of working as a paralegal. Third, the completion of a paralegal program and five years of full-time paralegal work experience can qualify you. And the last option is to have a high school diploma and seven years of paralegal work experience.

In addition, individuals must have attended at least 12 hours of continuing legal education (CLE) courses during the three years prior to the exam; and these courses must have been approved by the Ohio Supreme Court Commission on CLE, the National Association for Legal Assistants, or the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. Two-and-a-half hours must be in the areas of legal ethics, professionalism, and substance abuse.

Applicants also have to provide three professional references, and two have to be from attorneys who are in good standing with the Supreme Court of Ohio. Suggestions for the other reference include judges, mediators, and educators.

When it comes to the actual written exam, areas that will be covered are legal research, ethics, substantive and procedural law, communication, and law office management. Within the substantive and procedural law section, topics that could be covered include bankruptcy, contracts, real estate, civil rules and procedure, criminal law, business organizations, and the American legal system.

Overall, the exam was created to test critical and analytical thinking, computer skills, and communication skills.

For grading and administration purposes, the OSBA is working on creating a Paralegal Certification Board. It will be the board's responsibility to oversee exam eligibility requirements, administer the exam, and set the passing scores for each section.

Paralegals who pass the exam and earn the certification will have to report on their activities every two years in order to keep their newly gained title; and after the four-year certification period is up, paralegals can update their certification by providing references and proof of having taken CLE courses. The Paralegal Certification Board will review the files of paralegals who request continued certification.

The first exam is set to be held in March 2007, but interested individuals will be able to get applications online at starting January 1.

published July 31, 2006

( 60 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.