Prior to the Florida Supreme Court adding Chapter 20 to its Rules Regulating the Florida Bar and outlining a set of rules and regulations for becoming a registered paralegal in November 2007, there were no specific guidelines for becoming a paralegal in Florida. A law firm could hire anyone they felt was qualified to perform the duties of a paralegal. They were free to train a secretary or any other person without any legal training to serve in the capacity of a paralegal or legal assistant.
Implementation of the Florida Registered Paralegal Program
On March 1, 2008, Chapter 20, establishing the Florida Registered Paralegal Program, went into effect. Under Subchapter 20-3.1, certain eligibility requirements for registration were set forth. To become a paralegal in Florida, and be registered as such in the state of Florida, an individual must meet at least one of the following educational and work experience requirements.
Applicants Must Meet One of the Following Conditions:
1. They must enroll in an approved paralegal studies program and earn a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. In addition, they must have at least one year of experience doing paralegal work.
2. Have or obtain any bachelor’s degree from any higher learning institution. The educational institution must be accredited by one of the nationally recognized accrediting agencies that have been approved by the United States Department of Education and the Florida Department of Education. In addition to the bachelor’s degree, one must also have a minimum of 3 years of work experience as a paralegal.
3. Have or obtain an associate’s degree in paralegal studies from an approved paralegal program, and have a minimum of 2 years of practical work experience as a paralegal.
4. Have or obtain any associate’s degree from an institution has been approved by the United States Department of education or the Florida Department of education. In addition to the associate’s degree, the applicant must have at least four years of paralegal work experience.
5. A juris doctorate (JD) degree from an institution accredited by the American Bar Association and one year of paralegal experience.
Once the educational and work experience requirements have been met, the only thing that remains in order to become a Florida Registered Paralegal is to obtain certification. In most cases, you will be required to take and pass a test that measures your knowledge and comprehension of the duties you will encounter as a paralegal. One can obtain certification by taking and scoring a passing grade on the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE). The PACE test is administered by the National Federation of Paralegal Association (NFPA).
A second alternative test is the Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal Exam. You must be in good standing with the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and successfully pass the test that they administer.
Note – There was a Grandfather clause that allowed experienced paralegals to forego the above-mentioned tests and still be certified as long as they worked 5 of the last 8 years as a paralegal and had the attorney they worked for attest to their competence while working for them. The Grandfather clause was permitted for three years from the March 1, 2008 implementation of the new Florida Paralegal requirements, and it expired on March 1, 2011.
Providing Documentation and Registration Fees
You must file the required documents under subchapter 20-3.1 with the Florida Bar Association. The documents include proof that you completed the educational and work experience requirements, took and passed one of the two approved certification tests. The registration fee will be charged. The amount of the fee is determined by the board of the Florida Bar Association.
Once the paperwork has been received, the Florida Bar will review all of the documentation and make sure it is complete and in compliance with all of the rules. If all of the requirements have been met, the applicant will become a Florida Registered Paralegal and receive a certificate verifying that accomplishment. An annual renewal process and a fee are required by the Florida Bar to keep your paralegal status intact.