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26 Feb

Do Legal Jobs in Chicago Value Specialized Legal Certifications?

by: Astor Professional Search

People carving their paths in the bustling world of legal jobs in Chicago, Illinois, might wonder: Are specialized legal certifications worth it? Certifications are programs offered by professional organizations to validate your expertise in specific legal areas. They showcase your dedication and knowledge, setting you apart from the crowd. They might also be required for specialized positions, opening doors you couldn’t otherwise access. While certifications are valuable, you need strong legal skills, relevant experience, and a passion for the law to navigate Chicago’s diverse and dynamic legal landscape.

Lawyer and client looking at each other while discussing papers in office.

Legal Jobs in the United States

The legal field offers diverse opportunities for anyone passionate about justice and precision. Whether you envision yourself in a courtroom, behind a desk drafting contracts, or advocating for a cause you believe in, there’s likely a legal path waiting for you. Within this vast terrain, you can delve into countless specializations.

But the legal scene isn’t just about lawyers in courtrooms. Think tanks, advocacy groups, government agencies, and even tech companies need legal minds. They hire them to navigate regulations, draft policies, and ensure ethical practices.

The U.S. legal landscape also demands certain skills. Analytical thinking, meticulous attention to detail, and strong communication abilities are essential. The same applies to research prowess, problem-solving instincts, a knack for persuasive writing, and a dedication to upholding justice.

Dedication, the right skills, and a passion for the law are necessary when you want to pursue a career as an attorney or another legal job. Research different practice areas with the help of a legal recruiter and network with professionals to better your chances of securing a job at your preferred law firm or organization. Also, explore training opportunities that will improve your job prospects.

Statistics on the Number of Legal Jobs

U.S. legal jobs reached almost their highest recorded level in November 2023, with around 3,300 new positions added. The nation has over 1.18 million legal jobs, including lawyers, paralegals, and assistants. This near-record hiring comes despite slower global business activities like mergers and acquisitions.

The overall U.S. job market is strong, with unemployment low and new jobs getting created. Even with fewer big business deals, big law firms are making profits thanks to hourly billings. Some firms are raising starting salaries for new lawyers, even though there may be already too many junior lawyers.

So, what does this mean? The legal field is still strong, offering more jobs and good pay for experienced lawyers.

Specialized Certifications for the Legal Field

There are specialized certifications available in the legal field. Each focuses on a specific area of law and requires additional training and exams beyond the standard law degree. The most common specialized certifications include:

Certified Paralegal (CP) and Registered Paralegal (RP)

Illinois does not offer state-specific certified paralegal programs or certifications. This means no official title of “Certified Paralegal” is recognized by the state. However, Illinois paralegals still have options for enhancing their credentials and demonstrating competency.

Paralegals can pursue national certifications to stand out in the job market. Popular options include the Certified Paralegal (CP) and the Registered Paralegal (RP) from the National Association of Legal Assistants and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, respectively.

The CP certification requires a paralegal degree or equivalent experience and passing the C.P. exam. The R.P. certification, on the other hand, requires a paralegal degree or equivalent experience and meeting educational and professional experience requirements.

Illinois offers paralegal certificate programs at various colleges and universities. However, these programs do not automatically lead to a state-issued certification. An example is the Illinois Accredited Paralegal (ILAP) credential.

The Illinois Paralegal Association (IPA) offers the ILAP designation even though it is not a state-certified program. This voluntary program recognizes paralegals who meet criteria, including membership in the IPA and demonstrated professional experience. Be sure to research options like national certifications, the ILAP program, and ongoing education options to find the best fit for your professional development.

Accredited Legal Professional (ALP)

You need some experience – at least three years serving as a paralegal or in a related field – to sign up for the ALP certification. You can also get credit for completing a paralegal degree or serving in the military. You then need to pass a three-part exam that covers essential legal topics like business communication, office management, and legal terminology.

Earning your ALP opens doors to better career opportunities and higher salaries. The certification allows you to upgrade your qualifications every five years to make you a better candidate.

Legal Studies Certification

A legal studies certificate does not qualify you to practice law or replace any formal legal education. It’s different from certifications like Certified Paralegal (CP) or Registered Paralegal (RP), which often lead to specific job titles and allow you to perform certain legal tasks. The certification is more like a focused exploration of a particular legal area.

Legal studies certificates have different coverage. They may focus on a general overview of the legal system or specific fields, such as environmental law, family law, or international law. This variety allows you to tailor your learning to your interests or career aspirations.

A legal studies certificate can be a great way to show law schools your knowledge of a specific area. If you are considering a career in law but lack formal legal education, a legal studies certification can provide valuable foundational knowledge and open doors to entry-level legal positions. The certificate can also equip non-legal professionals working in fields like business, finance, or real estate with legal knowledge relevant to their daily work.

Professional Legal Secretary (PLS)

The Professional Legal Secretary (PLS) certificate is like a badge of honor for legal assistants who have mastered their skills and proven their dedication to the legal field. You must have at least three years of experience working as a legal assistant or in a related field to earn the certificate. Then, you must pass a four-part exam that covers legal terminology, ethics, communication skills, and even managing technology in the courtroom.

The PLS was updated to the Certified Legal Professional (CLP) certification, which requires the same experience and covers similar content as the PLS exam. Both lead to the same professional designation: Certified Legal Professional/Professional Legal Secretary (CLP/PLS). This allows you to choose the title that resonates more with you.

What Are the Benefits of Specialized Legal Certifications?

You are ready to enter the legal world after completing law school and passing the bar exam. However, you may need specialized legal certifications to make your resume stand out in this competitive field that sees numerous legal trends emerge almost daily. The benefits of getting these certifications include:

Increased Job Prospects and Marketability

Employers in the legal field sift through resumes, looking for the perfect candidate. A relevant certification can grab their attention. It shows you have expanded your expertise in a specific area, making you a more attractive candidate.

Some legal jobs, like patent attorney or immigration specialist, require specific certifications. Earning one can help you explore these exclusive career paths. You’ll dive deeper into your chosen legal area, solidifying your knowledge and becoming a sharper, more confident legal mind.

The specialized legal certification must come from a credible, reputable organization to improve your job prospects and marketability. The organization must have rigorous standards and industry recognition. A fancy-sounding certification from an unknown institution might not impress anyone.

Earning a certification takes dedication, study hours, and, often, a financial investment. So, weigh the effort and monetary investment against the potential rewards. You should also ensure you are passionate about the chosen area.

A certification is not a magic shortcut to your career prospects. Strong legal skills, relevant experience, and a network of connections are still important in the legal world. Evaluate if the certification adds something new or replicates what you already know.

Higher Earning Potential

Having a certification demonstrates dedication and specialized knowledge. It can make you an attractive candidate for legal jobs and other jobs you can do with a law degree.

Certain niches within the legal world, like intellectual property or tax law, often require certifications. As such, if you earn one, you will access lucrative positions. These positions may have higher average salaries than general legal jobs.

You can confidently walk into salary negotiations knowing you are a certified legal mind. Your specialized skills become bargaining chips. If the negotiations favor you, they may translate to a decent paycheck.

Professionals who continuously invest in their education, including pursuing certifications, may see their earning potential increase over time. However, many employers value real-world legal work over certifications. The certification must also be relevant and in demand within your chosen field for it to improve your earning potential.

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William Sugarman

William Sugarman is the president and founder of Astor Professional Search. He engages in the successful placement of attorneys with local, regional, and international law firms and corporations. Bill’s extensive legal and business development experience give Astor an edge over other legal recruiters nationwide. At the cornerstone of Bill’s strategic philosophy is providing the highest level of personalized attention to his clients and attorney candidates. This is also a key factor that separates Astor from other legal search firms, and it consistently delivers legal placements year after year.

Years of Experience: More than 20 years

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