Paralegal Certification - An Insider's Perspective
Believe it or not, a paralegal (or legal assistant) is not a licensed profession in the United States. While some paralegals originally received on the job training when the profession came into existence in the 1960s and 1970s, more people entering the field today do so with certification. Certification is voluntary, not a requirement to be a paralegal. However, a paralegal with certification and special training is generally better prepared for promotion and will stand out in a field of candidates who might likely meet most qualifications but who are not certified.
To get certified as a paralegal or legal assistant (the terms are used interchangeably), one must pass a test from one of several paralegal organizations. Certification for paralegals is a little like that of attorneys. Just because an attorney passes law school doesn't make him or her a lawyer. They must first pass the bar exam. The same situation is true for paralegals. Completion of a certification program does not make one a certified paralegal. It's passing the exit exam that issues that certification.
In addition to entering the field as a certified paralegal, most of today's legal assistant professionals choose to continue their education as an on going process. Some want to specifically develop certain areas of their work -- like receiving additional training in commercial law, criminal law, estate planning, etc.
When you are searching for a certificate program to either begin or continue education in the paralegal field, you will have to weed out those programs that are not right for you. There are quite a few programs out there. Some say they are approved by or compliant with the American Bar Association. The best way to check is to contact the bar association in your state. Tell the bar association representative that you are seeking information about either entering the field or continuing professional development certification and ask for program referrals. While most states do not require certification for people to be a paralegal, the state's bar association will be able to hook you up with some of the organizations and programs they do recognize as reputable.
If you are looking into various online certification courses or correspondence courses, check with your state's attorney general's office and better business bureau to see if any complaints have been filed about the institution offering the courses. The state's bar association would be another good source of information as well.
While selecting your choice of study for paralegal certification may take some legwork initially, it will pay off for you in the future. Besides, the research you do as you search for certification information will better prepare you for the types of research you may end up performing as a legal assistant. Additionally, it may save you a lot of expense and heart ache in the future. Nothing would be worse than "completing" a paralegal training program only to find out that its certification is not recognized widely and after the expense and time, you basically have nothing to show.
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* Government Statistics on Legal Verdicts and Jury Awards - $ U.S. district courts terminated approximately 512,000 civil cases during fiscal years 2002-03. Nearly 20% or 98,786 of these cases were torts in which plaintiffs claimed injury, loss, or damage from a defendant’s negligent or intentional acts. $ Of the 98,786 tort cases terminated in U.S. district courts in 2002-03, about 2% or 1,647 cases were decided by a bench or jury trial. $ An estimated 9 out of 10 tort trials involved personal injury issues C most frequently, product liability, motor vehicle (accident), marine, and medical malpractice cases. $ Juries decided about 71% of all tort cases brought to trial in U.S. district courts; judges adjudicated the remaining 29%. $ Plaintiffs won in 48% of tort trials terminated in U.S. district courts in 2002-03. Plaintiffs won less frequently in medical malpractice (37%) and product liability (34%) trials. $ Eighty-four percent of plaintiff winners received monetary damages with an estimated median award of $201,000. $ Plaintiffs won more often in bench (54%) than in jury (46%) tort trials. The estimated median damage awards were higher in jury ($244,000) than in bench ($150,000) tort trials.
April 2006 - A Jury in New Jersey found last week that Vioxx significantly contributed to a 77-year-old man's heart attack awarded him $9 million in punitive damages yesterday, raising Merck & Co.'s liability in the case to $13.5 million and intensifying pressure on it to settle such lawsuits.
Example of Personal Injury Case 2004 : Ford Explorer rollover-prone and roof not crash safe and worthy- CASE TYPE : Product Design Defect, Auto Truck Vehicle - SUV,
Motor Vehicle – Rollover CASE : Buell-Wilson v. Ford Motor Co., San Diego Co.,
Calif., Super. Ct. GIC 800836 Los Angeles, Calif.
JURY VERDICT: $369,000,000 (369 Millions Dolalrs
2005 - In what may be one of the biggest massive medical malpractice tort verdicts in the state of Texas, a state jury awarded $606 million - including a remarkable $ 600 million dollars in punitive damages - to the family of an 82-year-old patient who had cancer and then who died after receiving an overdose of chemotherapy drugs.
2005 - In the 9th big loss for Ford in SUV Explorer rollover cases, a Florida jury awarded $61.2 million to the parents of an 18-year-old boy who was killed in a 1997 (wrongful death & Product Defect and Product Liability Issues)
Example of Personal Injury Lawyer Case 2004 : Dodge Caravan seatback collapsed on baby in a car-seat - CASE TYPE : Automobiles, Products Liability -
Product Design Defect, Wrongful Death, Motor Vehicle -
Rear-ender, Motor Vehicle - Passenger, Motor Vehicle - Minivan
CASE : Flax v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., Davidson Co., Tenn., Cir. Ct. O2C-1288
JURY VERDICT : $105,500,000 (105 Million Dollars
2005 – Billion Dollar Verdicts - In one of 2005's largest verdicts to an individual plaintiff regarding financial fraud , a Florida jury ordered Morgan Stanley Broker Dealer to pay $1.45 billion to investor Ronald O. Perelman for defrauding him in the sale of his camping gear company - Coleman.
2005 - February, a prominent Houston law firm and a Texas bank were SMACKED and Beaten with a $65.5 million verdict in a highly complex estate planning case that involved major problems and conflicts of interest. (65 million dollar jury award)
2005 – 3 years after a jury acquitted a company in Florida of manslaughter and criminal charges, a Florida civil jury SLAMMED the outdoor advertiser with a $65 million jury award verdict for the shock and electrocution of a sixth-grade boy.
Age Discrimination - In December, a Los Angeles California jury found that PrivatAir - an aviation company focusing on private airline services - wrongfully fired Captain Doyle D. Baker on the basis of his age, defaming him in the termination process and causing extreme emotional distress.
Punitive damages serve a number of important functions which—despite a few horror stories, which are themselves either apocryphal or overturned in the courts, the functions remain valid and in the public interest. Persons causing great harm—persons deliberately or with gross negligence causing great harm should not view paying damages as merely a cost of doing business, a cost that might fit neatly into a risk analysis of wrongdoing. That is what happened in the Ford Pinto case in which the cost of paying claims to victims of a known deadly hazard was deemed less than the cost to retool the assembly line, and thus the hazard was maintained knowing full well that further people—more people would be injured or killed.
This is the purpose of punitive damages, to punish this kind of egregious wrongdoing, and to deter, to be a deterrent to such conduct. It is not immediately clear why a deterrent—or the necessity of the deterrent should bear any great relationship to the amount of actual damages in a given case. There is nothing wrong and indeed something highly desirable in maintaining this disincentive to wrongdoing in an appropriate relationship to the harm and the conduct of the tort-feasor. This trend has led one commentator to suggest that ''[p]unitive damages have replaced baseball as our national sport.'' Theodore B. Olson, Rule of Law: The Dangerous National Sport of Punitive Damages, Wall St. J., Oct. 5, 1994, at A17. See also Malcolm E. Wheeler, A Proposal for Further Common Law Development of the Use of Punitive Damages in Modern Products Liability Litigation, 40 Ala. L. Rev. 919, 919 (1989) (''Today, hardly a month goes by without a multimillion-dollar punitive damages verdict in a product liability case.'').