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Paralegal Studies Program

The primary purpose of NOVA's paralegal studies program is to educate competent and ethical paralegals. Paralegals (who are also called "legal assistants") are persons who are qualified by education, training, or work experience to perform specifically delegated legal work for which a lawyer is responsible. Paralegals are employed or retained by lawyers, law offices, corporations, governmental agencies and other entities. Paralegals are prohibited by law from offering legal services directly to members of the public.

NOVA's program leads to an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in paralegal studies. All students must complete at least 50% of their required paralegal studies courses at NOVA to earn the degree. The program strives to balance theory and practice, so that graduates are not only equipped to perform specific legal tasks, but also able to understand the principles of law such tasks involve.

Although the education and training of paralegals is the program's primary purpose, the program also seeks to serve community members who want to test their interest in a law-related career or learn about an area of law due to personal concern or interest, as well as to meet the needs of working paralegals who want to increase their skills in a particular area of practice.

The program has been approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) since 1988.

The ABA's definition of Paralegal: "A legal assistant or paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible."

Job Outlook for Paralegals: "Employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 17 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. This occupation attracts many applicants, and competition for jobs will be strong. Experienced, formally trained paralegals with strong computer and database management skills should have the best job prospects." (United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Paralegal Student Association (PSA) Students in the Paralegal Studies program are forming a new Student Organization. If you are interested in an opportunity to get more involved with other students, share information about the Paralegal Studies program, network, and address students' goals and needs, please join us. For more information, please contact Nichole McRorie or Celina Quevedo Woolfe .


NOVA's paralegal studies program offers college credit leading to an Associates in Applied

Science (AAS) degree. The curriculum for the degree consists of eleven courses (thirty-three semester hours) in legal specialty courses and ten courses (thirty-two semester hours) in required or elective general education courses.

The eleven legal specialty courses include an introductory course (which must be taken during the first semester of studies), skill building courses in legal research and legal writing, and courses in eight substantive areas of law.

Required general education courses focus on building skills in the areas of writing, oral communication, logical thinking, and computer competency, and also include liberal arts courses in the humanities and in the natural and social sciences.

The paralegal studies program is designed so that students who have no previous college experience can earn their degrees after four semesters (two academic years) of full-time study. Students who have earned a bachelors degree from a regionally accredited college or university are usually exempt from the general education requirements, and can earn their paralegal studies degrees after completing the eleven legal specialty courses and one computer course. This can normally be done in two semesters (nine months) of full-time study.

Some students attend on a full-time basis while others attend on a part-time basis and complete courses at whatever rate is best for them. Because many students hold full-time jobs and juggle family responsibilities, both day and evening classes are scheduled each semester. Each legal specialty course meets one day per week (Monday through Saturday) during a three hour time block.

Legal specialty courses are offered only at the Alexandria campus. General education courses may be taken at any campus or on line, at a variety of day and evening times.

Professional Certification

Although no state currently requires paralegals to be licensed or certified, increasing numbers of paralegals are opting to become certified by taking a professional exam. At present, two separate certification exams are offered by each of two different national professional paralegal groups: the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). The only way to become certified is to take and pass one of these two exams.

NALA's certification exam (known as the "Certified Paralegal" or "CP" Exam) can be taken by persons who have completed a qualifying course of paralegal education. No practical experience is required to take this exam. All graduates of NOVA's paralegal studies program are immediately eligible to take the NALA certification exam. In addition, students who have already earned bachelors degrees (from any accredited college or university, and in any major field of study) can become eligible to take NALA's certification exam by successfully completing 15 semester hours of paralegal studies ( 5 NOVA courses). Those who pass the NALA certification exam are entitled to use the credential "CP," which stands for "certified paralegal." For more information on NALA certification requirements, please contact NALA at www.nala.org.

NFPA has two certification exams--the Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCE) and the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE). The Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCE) is new and was developed to test the core competencies of early-career and entry-level paralegals and takes into account coursework in paralegal programs as well as the actual skills considered essential for basic competency in the profession. Students who complete NOVA's program are eligible to sit for the PCCE. Candidates who achieve a passing score are entitled to use the credential CORE Registered Paralegal or "CRP." The PACE is for experienced paralegals and requires a candidate to have completed both a qualifying course of paralegal education and a period of substantive work experience as a paralegal. Students who graduate from NOVA's program can sit for the PACE after accumulating six years of work experience. Students who complete NOVA's program and who have also earned a bachelor's degree can sit for the PACE after accumulating two years of work experience. Those who pass PACE are entitled to use the credential "RP" which stands for PACE Registered Paralegal. For more information on NFPA's certification opportunities, please contact NFPA at www.paralegals.org.

FAPP (The Foundation for the Advancement of the Paralegal Profession) is all about Empowering and Promoting ParalegalsTM. The Foundation's mission is to promote and advance the professional and educational standards of paralegal professionals. Please contact FAPP at www.paralegalfoundation.org.