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The following student questions were answered by Julia M. Dunlap, Esq., director of legal education for the Paralegal Certificate Program and Intellectual Property Certificate Program at the University of California, San Diego Extension. Dunlap has played an active role in paralegal education for over 10 years.

The attorney I work for just told me that he has to complete 25 hours of continuing education every three years. As a paralegal, do I have the same requirement?

Paralegals do have continuing education requirements, but not the same hourly requirement as practicing attorneys, who are members of the California State Bar Association.

Let me give you a brief history (I can hear the collective groan) -- on Jan. 1, 2001, California Business and Professions Code §6450 became effective and from that point on, defined who could be called a paralegal in California and what the educational requirements were for paralegals. As part of the law, mandatory continuing education requirements were put in place, which paralegals had to adhere to maintain their status as paralegals.

Most recently, Bus. & Prof. §6450(d) was amended to require paralegals to certify completion every three years of four hours of mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) in ethics, and every two years of four hours of MCLE in general or specialized law. Because paralegals are currently not licensed by any regulatory agency (such as the state bar) to which they report, they certify the completion of their MCLE to their supervising attorney, not any specific agency (unless they are a CLA/CP, as discussed in the next question).

For more details about MCLE requirements for paralegals and upcoming MCLE opportunities, visit the San Diego Paralegal Association (SDPA) Web site at www.sdparalegals.org.

I graduated from a paralegal program last fall and have been calling myself a "certified" paralegal ever since. Recently, I was told that I can not refer to myself as a certified paralegal unless I have passed something called the CLA exam, is this true and what's a CLA?

Ah, the great paralegal issue of the 21st century -- am I certified or certificated or both?

What you were told is true -- only paralegals that have passed the Certified Legal Assistant/Paralegal Exam or CLA/CP Exam are considered "certified." When you graduate from a paralegal program, you generally receive a paralegal certificate, which makes you "certificated," not certified. My students always snicker when I explain to them that they are now certificated -- it just doesn't have the same flair as certified, but that's the correct term.

The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers the voluntary CLA/CP Exam three times a year. It is not a prerequisite to working as a paralegal in California but many choose to take the exam in furtherance of their commitment to the paralegal profession. It is still a select group in California -- currently, there are only about 800 certified paralegals, or legal assistants, in California.

Being a certified paralegal also has additional continuing education requirements besides those required by Bus. & Prof. §6450 as discussed in the previous question.

For a great article about this timely issue in detail, see Luciana Case's article, "So You Are a Certified Paralegal. Are You Sure?" in the June 7, Paralegal News Notes.

I am currently in a paralegal certificate program and I need to take a few electives to complete my program. What type of courses would you recommend for someone looking to go into an exciting field?

Well, look around you -- what are some legal issues that you see continually popping up in the news (besides murder and mayhem, which is always there)?

In the last few years, I have seen a major explosion in the area of intellectual property. Whether it is issues with music sharing on now-defunct Web sites like Napster, the recent lawsuits over videos winding up on You Tube, or patenting new vaccinations, drugs or inventions, intellectual property disputes are everywhere. I think the variety in the subject matter and the appeal to people with all sorts of educational backgrounds (scientists, writers, engineers as well as those in the legal field) makes the intellectual property field one of the most exciting.

I would recommend looking into whether your paralegal program offers an intellectual property elective or an intellectual property certificate that can be completed in addition to the paralegal certificate, and see for yourself if this is an area that interests you -- I guarantee you there are a lot of opportunities.

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