Rules Governing Certification


I. Purpose

The State Bar of Wisconsin establishes this voluntary certification program for paralegals in order to:

(a) identify training and ethical standards for paralegals working in Wisconsin;

(b) recognize the professional commitment of paralegals who choose to become State Bar of Wisconsin Certified Paralegals;

(c) provide a benchmark for paralegal standards for State Bar lawyer-members who do or plan to work with paralegals in their practices; and

(d) promote greater access to legal services and the justice system for members of the public by assisting State Bar members in locating and better utilizing the services of qualified paralegals.

II. Definition

For purposes of the State Bar Certification Program, a paralegal is an individual:

(a) qualified through education, training, or work experience,

(b) who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity,

(c) to perform substantive legal work under the supervision of a lawyer licensed to practice in Wisconsin,

(d) said work requiring a sufficient recognition, evaluation, organization, analysis, and communication of relevant facts and legal concepts that, absent the paralegal, the attorney would perform it.

III. Eligibility Requirements for State Bar Certification

A. Education and Training

(1) Except as otherwise provided in this Program, no individual may be certified by the State Bar unless the individual has successfully completed post-secondary education and training that includes either of the following:

(a) An associate’s or bachelor’s degree from a qualified paralegal studies program, or

(b) (i) An associate’s or bachelor’s degree in any discipline from any institution of post-secondary education that is accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the United States Department of Education; and

(ii) Not less than 18 semester credits of coursework offered by a qualified paralegal studies program with a minimum grade of “C” in each course, any portion of which may be a part of or in addition to the credits earned toward the foregoing degree, in the following areas:

  1. 3 semester credits in legal research;
  2. 3 semester credits in legal writing;
  3. 1 semester credit in legal ethics;
  4. 1 semester credit in Wisconsin litigation practice;
  5. 6 semester credits in specific areas of substantive law; and
  6. Not less than 4 additional semester credits in any of the areas specified in subs. 1-5 of this subparagraph.

(2) For purposes of this Program:

(a) A “qualified paralegal studies program” means a program of paralegal studies offered by an institution of post-secondary education which maintains a 2-year or a 4-year program of paralegal studies that is sanctioned by the Wisconsin Technical College System Board, is sanctioned by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System, is approved by the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association, or which is an institutional member of the American Association for Paralegal Education, and which routinely and consistently embeds specific, Wisconsin-based substantive and procedural law content in its paralegal studies courses;

(b) "Semester credit" means a minimum of 14 clock hours of classroom instruction in a qualified paralegal studies program.

(c) Coursework offered by an institution of post-secondary education as part of a Juris Doctorate program that is approved by the American Bar Association may substitute for the coursework specified in section A (1) of this Section III so long as:

(i) Not less than 18 semester credits of coursework are completed with a minimum grade of "C" in each course;

(ii) the content of the coursework meets the criteria specified in this Section III, including the requirement for Wisconsin-based substantive and procedural law content; and

(iii) any coursework or combination of coursework submitted in satisfaction of the litigation or substantive law criteria of this section includes instruction in the proper drafting of legal documents used regularly in that area of the law.

(3) Based upon their institutional history in providing paralegal studies programs under the guidance of Program Advisory Committees that often include a member of the State Bar, the paralegal studies programs from the following institutions shall be presumed to meet the requirement that its paralegal studies courses routinely and consistently include Wisconsin-based substantive and procedural law content embedded therein:

(a) Chippewa Valley Technical College; Lakeshore Technical College; Madison College; Milwaukee Area Technical College; Northeast Wisconsin Technical College; and Western Technical College.

(b) This presumption may be overcome and revoked if the majority of courses in the paralegal studies program that are required under this Section III are shown to no longer routinely and consistently include Wisconsin-based substantive and procedural law content.

(4) Paralegals who do not meet the educational requirements identified in Section III, A (2) or (3), above, because their program of study lacked the requisite Wisconsin-based content may meet the educational requirements for certification by earning not less than 21 Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits in Wisconsin substantive and procedural law training offered by the State Bar of Wisconsin or by one of the institutions identified in subsection (3)(a), immediately above, that has been approved for this purpose by the Program Registrar. Not less than seven (7) such credits shall be in Wisconsin litigation practice.

B. Background Check

All applicants for certification must consent to a Criminal History Background Check processed by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, the corresponding agency in the state(s) in which the applicant most recently resided or practiced or both, or a federal registry, whichever is most appropriate based upon the information contained in the application. The Application for Certification will contain the necessary consent to the search and the application fee will include any costs associated with the Background Check. Applicants whose background check reveals information that would disqualify one from membership in the Wisconsin Bar as a lawyer-member will disqualify a paralegal from certification.

IV. Certification Based on Experience

For purposes of the State Bar Certification Program, a paralegal is an individual:

A. Education and Work Experience

In addition to those who qualify to be certified under Section III, above, an individual is eligible to be certified as a paralegal under this program if that individual meets all of the following qualifications:

(1) The individual has a high school diploma or equivalent education at the date of application;

(2) The individual has been engaged in work as a paralegal for not less than 4800 in-office hours at any time during the 5 years immediately preceding the time of application, or the individual has been teaching fulltime in an approved paralegal studies training program for not less than 3 years immediately preceding the date of the application; and

(3) The individual has completed at least 3 hours of approved continuing paralegal education or continuing legal education in the area of legal ethics and professional responsibility during the 12 months immediately preceding the date of application.

B. Application Window

(1) An individual seeking certification under this Section IV must apply for certification within 2 years of the effective date of this program, or within 2 years of establishing residency in Wisconsin, whichever is later.

(2) A paralegal who was originally certified under this Section IV and whose certification was resigned or revoked, may reapply for certification under this Section IV. The paralegal must provide proof of work experience for 5 of the 8 years immediately preceding the date of the reapplication, or teaching experience for 2 of the 5 years immediately preceding the date of the reapplication, and must be otherwise eligible for certification under the provisions of this program.

C. Background Check

All applicants for certification under this Section IV must consent to a Criminal History Background Check processed by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, the corresponding agency in the state(s) in which the applicant most recently resided or practiced or both, or a federal registry, whichever is most appropriate based upon the information contained in the application. The Application for Certification will contain the necessary consent to the search and the application fee will include any costs associated with the Background Check. Applicants whose background check reveals information that would disqualify one from membership in the Wisconsin Bar as a lawyer-member will disqualify a paralegal from certification.

V. Continuing Education Requirement

No individual may maintain certification as a paralegal in this state unless that individual does either of the following:

(1) Completes at least 12 hours of approved continuing paralegal education or continuing legal education during each reporting period, a minimum of 2 hours of which shall be in the area of legal ethics and professional responsibility; or

(2) Successfully completes with a minimum grade of "C" at least 1 semester credit from a qualified paralegal studies program during each reporting period.

(3) "Reporting period" means the 2-year period during which a paralegal must satisfy the Wisconsin continuing paralegal education requirement of this section. The reporting period for a paralegal certified in an even-numbered year shall end on June 30 of each even­ numbered year following the year in which the paralegal was certified initially. The reporting period for a paralegal certified in an odd-numbered year shall end on June 30 of each odd-numbered year following the year in which the paralegal was certified initially.

(4) "Hour" means a period of approved continuing paralegal education or continuing legal education consisting of not less than 50 minutes.

(5) “Approved continuing paralegal or continuing legal education” means programming that has been approved as such by the Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners, or which is offered as continuing paralegal or legal education by the American Bar Association, approved state or national law-related organizations, national or state paralegal associations, accredited educational institutions, or federal or state regulatory or governmental authorities. The Program Registrar shall identify such procedures as may be reasonably necessary to verify attendance at, and the accreditation status of, individual continuing legal education programs that will satisfy the requirements of this Section V.

VI. Persons Ineligible for Certification or Recertification

No individual is eligible to be certified, or have their certification renewed, as a paralegal in this state if any of the following conditions apply:

(1) The individual 's license to practice law in any state or jurisdiction is currently under suspension or revocation, or the individual has resigned in lieu of suspension, discipline, or revocation;

(2) The individual has been convicted of a felony in any state or jurisdiction and their civil rights have not been restored;

(3) The individual has been found to have engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in any state or jurisdiction;

(4) The individual’s registration, certification, or license to practice has been terminated or revoked for disciplinary reasons by a professional organization, court, disciplinary board, or agency in any jurisdiction;

(5) The individual fails to comply with the continuing education requirements as set forth in Section V, above;

(6) The individual’s Criminal History Background Check reveals information that would disqualify one from membership in the Wisconsin Bar as a lawyer-member.

VII. Certification Process

Individuals who meet the certification requirements set forth above and who wish to become certified under this Program must submit the following information and documentation to the Program Registrar:

(1) A verified and completed Application in the form provided pursuant to the Program;

(2) If applying under Section III, A, a verified copy of their official transcript from the educational institutions attended;

(3) If Section III, A (4) applies to the applicant, certification or other acceptable proof that the applicant has successfully completed the additional educational requirements set out in said subsection;

(4) If applying under Section IV, sworn or affirmed declarations from the attorney(s) with whom the applicant works or has worked, attesting to the applicant’s substantive paralegal work experience. The total number of attested years of substantive paralegal experience must meet the minimum number of years as provided in said Section IV;

(5) If the applicant is applying based upon teaching experience as identified in Section IV, sworn or verified employment records showing that the applicant meets the minimum teaching requirements as identified in said Section IV;

(6) A nonrefundable application fee as established by the Registrar.

(7) Upon submission and review of all required documentation, payment of the application fee, and approval by the Program Registrar, a certification shall be issued to the applicant, who may thereafter use the credential “State Bar of Wisconsin Certified Paralegal”. Certification shall be valid for two years from the date of issuance unless revoked sooner in accordance with the procedures set forth under this Program.

VIII. Ethical Rules

Every State Bar of Wisconsin Certified Paralegal (SBWCP) must agree to be bound by, and must in fact and practice adhere to the following rules and requirements:

(1) The SBWCP may work only under the direct supervision of a Wisconsin-licensed attorney in good standing, either as an employee or an independent contractor;

(2) The SBWCP may not establish an independent practice as a paralegal separate or divorced from the direct supervision requirement of this Section VIII; and

(3) The SBWCP will be bound by and conduct herself or himself in accordance with the following:

(a) The American Bar Association Model Code of Professional Responsibility and Model Rules of Professional Conduct;

(b) The Code of Ethics adopted by any professional paralegal association to which the individual belongs; and

(c) The Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys.

IX. Renewal of Certification

In order to maintain certification, a State Bar of Wisconsin Certified Paralegal shall:

(1) Renew certification every two years from the date of their original certification date;

(2) Meet the continuing education requirements as set out in Section V, above;

(3) Meet the employment/paralegal practice requirements as set out in Section VIII, above;

(4) Not be ineligible for certification or recertification under Section X, below; and

(5) Remit the nonrefundable recertification fee, along with proof verifying that the continuing education requirements and that the employment and practice requirements have been met, together with such recertification form as may be directed by the Program Registrar, not less than 60 days prior to the end of the current certification period.

X. Denial, Revocation, or Nonrenewal of Certification

Certification may be denied, revoked, or not renewed for the following administrative or substantive reasons, as set forth in this Section X. Denial, revocation, or nonrenewal of certification may be based in all cases upon information or the lack thereof as presented to or discovered by the Program Registrar or the State Bar of Wisconsin in any capacity, upon information presented or developed by the Certification Review Board established under Section XI, below, or in response to investigation of a sworn complaint filed with the Program Registrar.

A. Administrative Denial, Revocation, or Nonrenewal

The Program Registrar may deny, revoke, or refuse to renew certification for any or all of the following reasons:

(1) Failure to provide the information or verifications required under the application;

(2) Failure to meet the continuing education requirement of Section V, above; or

(3) Nonpayment of application or renewal fees.

B. Substantive Denial, Revocation, or Nonrenewal

Upon referral by the Program Registrar or receipt of a sworn complaint, and pursuant to the procedures identified in Section XI, below, the Certification Review Board established under said Section XI may deny, revoke, or refuse to renew certification for any or all of the following reasons:

(1) Providing false information on or with the application for certification;

(2) Fraud, misrepresentation, or mistake in obtaining or renewing certification;

(3) Failure to abide by or violation of the ethical requirements of Section VIII, above;

(4) Engaging in the unauthorized practice of law;

(5) Gross incompetence or unprofessional or unethical conduct; or

(6) Conviction of a felony or of a misdemeanor involving fraud, misrepresentation, dishonesty, or false statements.

C. Notice and Appeal of Decision to Deny, Revoke, or Not Renew

Notice of the denial, revocation, or nonrenewal of certification, and the reasons therefor, shall be given in writing to the applicant by the Program Registrar. Notice will be given by certified mail to the applicant at the applicant’s address as indicated on the application. The Notice shall advise the applicant that she or he may file, within 30 days of the mailing of the notice, a Request for Reconsideration.

XI. Reconsideration of Decision to Deny, Revoke, or Not Renew Certification

A. Request for Review

An applicant whose request for certification or recertification is denied or whose certification is revoked may request reconsideration of the decision. The Request for Reconsideration shall include any additional information or supporting material that the applicant believes will assist the Certification Review Board in its consideration of the initial decision.

B. Certification Review Board

The Certification Review Board (CRB) shall consist of five members appointed by the State Bar President for three-year, staggered terms. The Board shall consist of two licensed members of the State Bar, two State Bar of Wisconsin Certified Paralegals, and one educator who teaches fulltime in one of the paralegal programs identified in Section III A (3), above. The educator member may, but is not required to be, a licensed member of the State Bar or a SBWCP.

C. Review and Investigation by Certification Review Board

(1) The review by the CRB will be de novo.

(2) The CRB may consider any relevant documentary or testimonial evidence, including hearsay evidence, if it the type of evidence upon which reasonable persons rely.

(3) Rules of privilege shall be effective to the same extent as they are recognized in civil actions.

(4) Incompetent, irrelevant, immaterial, or unduly repetitious evidence may be excluded at the discretion of the CRB.

(5) The review and investigatory record are the property of the State Bar.

(6) Any material that is confidential under applicable law shall remain confidential and shall not be disclosed except in accordance with said law.

(7) If the review and investigation is in response to a sworn complaint filed by a third party, the complainant may be granted the right to be present at any proceeding where the applicant/ SBWCP is present to give testimony, but the complainant shall not be a party to the review proceeding.

D. Decision of Certification Review Board

At the conclusion of its review and investigation, the CRB shall send its written Decision to the applicant or SBWCP by certified mail within 60-90 days of the receipt of the Request for Reconsideration. The Decision shall set forth the reasons for the decision. The decision of the CRB shall be final and non-appealable.

E. Reapplication Right

An applicant or SBWCP whose request for certification or renewal has been denied, or whose certification has been revoked, may reapply for certification under either Section III or Section IV, as applicable, no sooner than two years from the date of the decision by the Program Registrar or the CRB, whichever is later.

F. Immunity

The members of the Certification Review Board, the Program Registrar, and State Bar staff shall have absolute immunity from civil liability for all acts in the course of their official duties.