Work Experience: The Newest Option for NCCP Exam Applicants

By Alicia Mitchell-Mercer

This spring, the North Carolina Supreme Court approved amendments to The Plan for Certification of Paralegals, 27 N.C.A.C. 1G, Section .0100. The amendments eliminate the educational prerequisite for paralegal certification for applicants who satisfy work experience requirements. To be certified, applicants who satisfy the work experience requirements must pass the certification examination.

To read the official notice, see page 38 of the Summer 2020 edition of The North Carolina State Bar Journal.

Defining “Work Experience”

To qualify to sit for the exam under this new change, work experience is defined as: “(D) a high school diploma or equivalent plus five years of experience (comprising 10,000 work hours) as a legal assistant/paralegal or paralegal educator and, within the 12 months prior to the application, [one must have] completed one hour of CLE on the topic of professional responsibility. Demonstration of work experience may be established by sworn affidavit(s) from the lawyer(s) or other supervisory personnel who has knowledge of the applicant’s work as a legal assistant/paralegal during the entirety of the claimed work experience.” This work experience can follow you from other states and is not required to be completed in North Carolina.

To read the Proposed Amendments to The Plan for Certification of Paralegals, which contains the definition of work experience and tracks the changes to the previous rule, see page 36 of the Winter 2019 edition of The North Carolina State Bar Journal.

When Do Changes Take Effect?

Ms. Joy Belk, Assistant Director, Board of Paralegal Certification, states that a pending update on the North Carolina State Bar – Paralegal Certification website will reflect the new requirements. Paralegals who now qualify to sit for the exam based upon experience will be eligible to sit for the next exam, which is presently scheduled for October 10, 2020. The application deadline is August 15, 2020.

How The Recent Changes May Affect Paralegals – An Opinion

The recent requirement change is a great opportunity for paralegals who have obtained their experience through the master-apprentice model (working under the supervision of a licensed attorney) for years, as opposed to receiving more formal training through an approved education program or through gaining national certification.

The population in two of North Carolina’s cities, Raleigh and Charlotte, have been growing by leaps and bounds. Charlotte is the largest city in North Carolina with a 2020 population of 905,318, and the 15th largest city in the United States, surpassing San Francisco, CA in the last year. Charlotte’s population has increased by 23.77% since the most recent census. Likewise, Raleigh is the second-largest city in North Carolina and the 41st largest city in the United States with a 2020 population of 481,958. Raleigh’s population has increased by 19.33% since the most recent census. Paralegals, who have moved to North Carolina from other states, will be able to take advantage of the amended application requirements, potentially making it easier for them to find employment.

There have been other notable changes made to the requirements to sit for the exam in recent years. For example, in 2018, the Board of Paralegal Certification, with the North Carolina Supreme Court’s approval, added national certification as one option to qualify to sit for the NCCP exam.

There are likely different opinions regarding these changes. Please allow me to share my point of view.

The goal of paralegal certification is set forth in The Plan for Certification of Paralegals. “The purpose of this plan for certification of paralegals (plan) is to assist in the delivery of legal services to the public by identifying individuals who are qualified by education and training and have demonstrated knowledge, skill, and proficiency to perform substantive legal work under the direction and supervision of a licensed lawyer, and including any individual who may be otherwise authorized by applicable state or federal law to provide legal services directly to the public; and to improve the competency of those individuals by establishing mandatory continuing legal education and other requirements of certification.”

In my view, I see NC paralegal certification as a symbol of basic achievement, designed to “rule-in” (not “rule-out”) competent paralegals. Perhaps it becomes an issue of what we, as a legal community, value most in a paralegal. Completion of a paralegal program? Completion of national certification? “X” number of years of experience? I think that in the end, the Board decided all three metrics have a place in making sure that paralegals meet the threshold necessary to assist attorneys in delivering legal services to the public. Certification also raises the bar for the level of professionalism displayed by North Carolina paralegals as a whole.

What do you think about this change? Will you be applying to take the exam under this new rule? Leave your opinion on Linkedin.

You may wish to check out our previously published blog post, Demystifying Paralegal Credentials for Lawyers and Paralegals, for more information about paralegal education and certification.

Alicia Mitchell-Mercer is a litigation paralegal and legal project manager with Brown & Associates, PLLC. She also works as a legal project management and business analyst consultant for Lex Project Management Consulting Group. She has a B.S. in Paralegal Studies and a M.S. in Project Management. She is a certified paralegal through the NC State Bar, SC Bar, NALA, and NFPA and a certified Legal Project Practitioner through the International Institute of Legal Project Management. Alicia is the Technology Committee Chair and Communications Co-Chair of the North Carolina Bar Association, Paralegal Division; and volunteers with the NC Guardian ad Litem program. She can be reached via email at alicia.mercer2014@gmail.com and on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/aliciamercer/.