Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Six Things to Know About the NC State Bar Paralegal Certification Plan + News for 2024

Twenty years ago, the North Carolina Supreme Court adopted the Plan for Certification of Paralegals. One year later, on July 1, 2005, the North Carolina State Bar Board of Paralegal Certification began accepting applications for the certification process.

In May 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an estimated 10,940 paralegals and legal assistants employed throughout North Carolina. More than 3,000 of those paralegals are certified by the NC State Bar - that’s good news not only for paralegals, but for lawyers and clients as well.

The program traces its origins back to 2001, when a grassroots gathering of paralegals, lawyers and educators began brainstorming ways to boost professionalism in the field. From those discussions arose the paralegal certification program launched by the State Bar in 2004.

Right out of the gate, the effort was a success. Thousands of paralegals have become certified since its inception.

“On average, approximately 300 paralegals attempt to obtain their North Carolina paralegal certification each year,” writes Erica McAdoo – herself a certified paralegal – who wrote an article in the NC State Bar Journalon the tenth anniversary of the program. 

The certification program is voluntary. You don’t have to be certified to work as a paralegal in North Carolina. But certification gives paralegals a leg up by showing they’ve met high standards and are committed to their profession.

Six Facts About Paralegal Certification in NC

  1. The process starts with an application (click here) and a filing fee of $125. The application must be accompanied by an official transcript from a qualified paralegal program.
  2. Applicants must be a legal U.S. resident and have the following educational credentials: (a) an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree from a qualified paralegal studies program; (b) a certificate from a qualified paralegal studies program and an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in any discipline from an accredited post-secondary institution; or (c) a juris doctorate degree from an ABA-accredited law school, a high school diploma or equivalent plus five years of work experience as a legal assistant / paralegal / paralegal educator, or have obtained and maintained a national paralegal certificate from a qualified association such as the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).
  3. Here is a list of qualified paralegal studies programs in North Carolina. All ABA-approved programs are automatically qualified.
  4. The exam is given over three-hours with five domains tested – communication, research, analysis, documentation and organization. The 150 multiple-choice questions cover civil litigation, commercial law, criminal law, ethics, family law, legal research, real property, and wills, trusts and estate administration. There are no essay questions. The test is based primarily on North Carolina law. In May 2024, the current study guide will be replaced with an examination guideline. The new guideline will include an updated list of sources and domains, tasks, and topic areas. Beginning in October 2024, the certification exam will contain questions regarding administrative law and technology. Also, the dates for the Spring and Fall exams will change to correlate with paralegal classes so upcoming graduates will have the opportunity to apply for the examination prior to graduation. Click here for 2024 testing dates.
  5. Paralegals must complete six hours of approved continuing legal education each year, with at least one hour of ethics.
  6. Certification lasts 12 months. A certificate can be renewed by completing a renewal application, paying a $75 fee and showing proof of CLE compliance.



About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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