The Ethics of Holding Yourself Out as Certified
Ellen Lockwood, ACP, RP
Ellen Lockwood, ACP, RP
Who is Certified
Most paralegals now have some sort of formal paralegal training. There are certificate programs, associate's degree programs, bachelor's degree programs, and master's degree programs. If you have a degree and/or a certificate from a paralegal program, that information should be included on your resume. However, do not confuse having a certificate (being "certificated") or degree with being certified. While completion of any reputable paralegal program is a worthy accomplishment, only those who have qualified for and passed a paralegal certification exam may hold themselves out as certified.
Sources of Certification
The Paralegal Division recognizes paralegal certifications from three organizations: NALA, NFPA, and TBLS. Each of these organizations requires completion and approval of an application and payment of a fee before you are qualified to take the exam. Once you have taken and passed a paralegal certification exam, you must continue to meet that organization's certification criteria in order to maintain your certification, including providing proof of CLE.
Use of Certification Credentials
Each organization offering paralegal certification has specific rules for identifying yourself as certified. For example, the certification credentials for NALA, NFPA, and TBLS do not include the use of periods (i.e., CP, ACP, RP, and TBLS). It is important to follow the certifying organization's rules regarding use of the organization's certification credential to avoid confusion and possible misuse of the organization's trademark. If you notice someone using certification credentials incorrectly, you should politely point out the error. It is likely the paralegal is just not aware of the error and will appreciate a fellow paralegal's helpful information.
Inactive Certification Status
If you do not meet a certifying organization's requirements to maintain your certification, you may no longer hold yourself out as certified. That means you may no longer list your certification on your business cards, letterhead, signature block, or include certification initials after your name. However, you may list the certification on your resume as long as you also indicate that the certification is no longer active. For example: December 1999 - TBLS Certified Paralegal - Civil Trial Law (Inactive).
Verification of Certification Status
NALA, NFPA, and TBLS all offer online search capabilities to determine whether someone is currently certified. Certified paralegals should confirm that their information is correct on the certifying organization's website.
Holding Yourself Out as Certified
It is unethical to represent yourself as certified when you are not. Claiming credentials such as certification to which you are not entitled is highly risky as employers and others may easily verify your claims. If any of your credentials are found to be false, you may not just get fired or lose out on a job opportunity, your reputation will be tarnished. After all, if you would misrepresent your credentials, you might very well lie about something else.
You cannot pick and choose which ethical rules to follow. You are either ethical or not. Part of being a professional is always being ethical.
Ellen Lockwood is an Advanced Certified Paralegal in intellectual property by the National Association of Legal Assistants and a registered paralegal by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. She is a past President and District 5 Director of the Paralegal Division.
If you have any questions regarding any ethical issue, please contact the Professional Ethics Committee.
Originally published in the Texas Paralegal Journal © Copyright 2008 by the Paralegal Division, State Bar of Texas.