Whether you’re dreaming of working as a paralegal for a solo practitioner or looking to work with a megafirm, all paralegals have one thing in common. It doesn’t matter if your work focuses on personal injury, insurance defense, family law, estates, real estate, contracts, criminal defense, or any other area of law (maritime or arbitration, anyone?).
Each and every paralegal needs continuing legal education (CLE).
What Is Continuing Legal Education?
Continuing legal education is a class (or classes) that act as a refresher for your legal knowledge. If you are interested in other areas of law than where you currently work, it can also act as an introduction. CLEs are available for both paralegals and for attorneys.
Attorneys are required to attend CLE each year. The number of hours that they need varies from state to state. If they do not receive the required number of hours, they can lose their license to practice law. Although paralegals are not required to attend CLEs by law, most states have a recommendation on the number of hours that paralegals should have each year. To know how many hours are recommended in your state, check out the state bar website. Most have a section for paralegals.
Finding Continuing Legal Education Options
Continuing legal education can be offered to paralegals in a number of ways. If you’re a member of a paralegal association either at the state or national level, the organization may offer CLEs to you as a member. Usually, the cost of those courses is either included in your membership fee or you get a reduced price.
Your state or county bar association may also provide CLEs for paralegals. Sometimes, paralegals are welcome to attend CLEs that are designed for lawyers. If a CLE geared toward attorneys piques your interest, just contact the host and ask if paralegals are able to register and attend.
If you look on LinkedIn, you may also find free continuing legal education courses that provide you with a certificate of completion. These courses are often provided via live webinar and are short enough to attend during a lunch break.
Are CLEs Really Beneficial for Paralegals?
There was a time early in my career that I blew off the idea of attending CLEs. I felt that it took billable time away from the law office. Then, there was the expense. I had no idea (back then) that my employer would have paid the cost of the CLE.
CLEs are designed to refresh your knowledge and to give you more information about various subjects (I’ve recently attended CLEs on e-discovery and cellphone forensics). Yes, they are worth the time that you would spend away from your billable projects. Since many CLEs can now be found in the form of a webinar, they are more convenient than ever. In fact, some paralegal organizations provide pre-recorded (and regularly updated) CLEs that you can complete at your own pace. Keep in mind that the knowledge you obtain is for you and for your employer. You become more educated and your employer gets a better paralegal. Talk to your supervising attorney to find out whether the firm will pay for your CLE in full or split the cost with you.