About Paralegal Education

Types of Programs

Generally, programs fall into one of the following categories:

·       Two-year community college programs, usually awarding a certificate or an associate degree.

·       Four-year baccalaureate programs with a major or minor in paralegal studies.

·       Programs offered by proprietary institutions, usually 3 to 18 months in length, awarding a certificate.

·       Post-baccalaureate programs, usually 3 to 12 months in length, awarding a certificate.

These diverse programs also have different admission standards, ranging from open admissions (a high school diploma or equivalent) to highly selective admissions, such as a baccalaureate degree with a 3.00 GPA. Some programs also require entrance examinations. Most institutions offer part-time evening programs for students who work; many also have full-time day or evening programs. Some programs are offered for college credit, some for continuing education credit and some are non-credit.

Two-year (Associate Degree) programs
An associate degree (Associate of Arts or Associate of Science) is conferred after the successful completion of two years (about 60 semester or 90 quarter units) of formal education. These programs are offered at community colleges and some four-year colleges and universities. The curriculum generally includes general education coursework such as English, mathematics, science, history, social sciences, and humanities in addition to 15 to 30 semester units of paralegal courses.

Four-year (Bachelor's Degree) programs
A baccalaureate degree (Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science) is awarded after the successful completion of four years (about 120 semester or 180 quarter units) of formal education. A student usually majors or minors in paralegal studies taking 18 to 45 semester units in that area. The remainder of the coursework is comprised of general education and electives.

Proprietary programs
These programs are offered by private profit-making colleges (often business schools) which generally offer a certificate upon completion of the course of study. The length and curriculum of these programs varies widely, but may usually be completed in three to eighteen months. Most often, a high school diploma is required for admission.

Post-baccalaureate programs
Post-graduate programs, often offered through a college's extension or continuing education division, ordinarily lead to a certificate and range from eight to 24 semester units in length. The general education component is fulfilled by a student's having a degree at entry. Most of these programs may be completed in one year or less. Some colleges award continuing education units which are nationally recognized, standard units of measurement adopted for post-secondary programs and educational courses not carrying college credit. Other colleges have credit-bearing certificate programs at the post-baccalaureate level.


Most paralegal programs cover the following subjects in addition to requiring general education either as part of the program or before it. The depth of coverage of each subject varies according to the structure and length of the program:

·       A introductory paralegal course (Overview of law and the paralegal field)

·       Litigation or civil procedure

·       Legal research and writing

·       Legal ethics

·       Specialized courses in one or more areas, such as:

·       Real property/real estate transactions

·       Wills, trusts and estate planning/probate

·       Family law

Business and corporate law and practice
Other subjects frequently offered include taxation, bankruptcy, contracts, commercial law, family law and torts. Many schools also have one or more classes covering computer applications for legal assistants.

American Bar Association Approval

Seeking ABA approval is voluntary on the part of the institution. There are some quality programs that have chosen not to seek approval. However, the ABA guidelines are useful in evaluating a program you are considering, and in helping you to decide whether it will meet your needs. Of the estimated 650 paralegal programs nationally, 184 have been approved by the ABA as of February 1994. To be considered for approval, a program must meet standards adopted by the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Assistants. Briefly, the guidelines for approval require a college-level program which:

·       is part of an accredited educational institution. offers at least 60 semester or 90 quarter units (or the equivalent) of classroom work. These units must include general education and at least 18 semester (or 27 quarter) units of legal specialty courses. has an advisory committee with attorneys and legal assistants from the public and private sectors.

·       has qualified, experienced instructors. has adequate financial support from the institution in which it is situated. is accredited by, or eligible for accreditation by, an accrediting agency recognized by the Council on Post-Secondary Accreditation.has adequate student services including counseling and placement. has an adequate legal library available.

·       has appropriate facilities and equipment.

How to Evaluate a Program

In evaluating the quality of a paralegal training program and whether or not it might suit your needs, consider these factors:

·       The educational objectives of the program should be stated clearly in the program literature, which should be available to you upon request.

·       General and specific training objectives should be provided. The reputation of both the umbrella institution and the program itself should be considered. Look to the educational standing of the program with the general public and the legal community. Admission standards and the level of education required for acceptance into the program will tell you the academic level of the program and whether or not you would be eligible. ABA Approval indicates that the program has met the standards set forth in the guidelines and Procedures for Obtaining ABA Approval of Legal Assistant Education Programs, as amended in 1992. This gives some level of assurance of quality and reputation. Membership in AAFPE shows that the program administration is interested in current developments in paralegal education and in offering a quality program. The qualifications of the program administrator and whether the staff is on campus full or part time will give you an idea of how much supervision and leadership the program has. Inclusion of experiential education such as internships or cooperative education. The placement record will tell you if graduates find paralegals positions, what type of work they perform, and firms employ them.

·       The composition and qualifications of the faculty will determine the content, level and quality of instruction. Look for experienced attorneys who utilize the services of paralegals, and experienced paralegals. The curriculum itself should include both theory and practical skills courses. Examine the required legal courses, the number of elective legal courses and the amount and kind of work required in courses. If you are interested in a particular area of law, be sure the school offers it. The student services which are available, such as orientation, student and alumni organizations, tutoring, and financial aid, may tell you if the program will provide you with the individual assistance you need.

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