So, you want to be a paralegal? First, you’ll need to complete a paralegal training course.
According to the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), the paralegal profession is not regulated by the federal government. However, employers want to hire professionals with the right combination of education and skills.
Therefore, although there is no legal requirement for certification, most employers strongly prefer a candidate who has completed a quality paralegal training program.
Types of Paralegal Training Programs
There are three types of paralegal training programs available:
- Certificate Program
- Associate’s Degree
- Bachelor’s Degree
A closer look at each appears in the following section.
Paralegal Certificate Programs
Certificate programs are offered by many colleges. They are the shortest college programs available and typically range from three to twelve courses, but can be longer. A fifteen credit certificate is usually 30 credits, and can be completed in one year.
Paralegal Associate’s Degree
An associate’s degree is a two year college degree program consisting of 60 credits.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists “Associate Degree” as an entry level requirement for the paralegal profession. However, US News & World Report reminds us that there are no official requirements for paralegal training, but many employers prefer a candidate with a credential such as an associate’s degree.
Bachelor’s Degree in Legal Studies
A Bachelor’s Degree is a four year degree, usually consisting of 120 credits. Because most employers typically hire paralegals with certificates or associate’s degrees, a bachelor’s degree is usually not the first choice by paralegal students. However, for those who want a four-year college education and are interested in the paralegal field, there are many options at the bachelor’s level.
The bachelor’s degree in this field is often referred to as a major in “legal studies.” This type of degree is a great option for people who would like to jump right into the workforce as a paralegal, but may want to consider continuing on to law school or a master’s degree in the future.
Choosing a Program
The American Association for Paralegal Education (AAFPE) gives further information about each degree level. After deciding which type of program is right for you, now it’s time to choose your program.
When choosing a program of any degree level, consider whether you want to have the option of advancing your education in the future. If so, you want to make sure that the college is accredited.
A certificate from a non-accredited institute may meet the standards of many employers, however, the credits may not be transferable to another college. If the school is nationally and regionally accredited, then in most cases your credits can be transferred if you decide to continue on to a higher degree in the future.
Recognition in the Field
When deciding if a program is reputable, check to see if it is recognized by any respected associations in the fields of paralegal and law. For example, the American Bar Association recognizes paralegal training programs that meet its standards, so you can check to see if your potential program is on their list.
The American Association for Paralegal Education also has a searchable database of programs that they approve of.
What Paralegals Study
Now that you’ve chosen a quality program at the right degree level, let’s take a look at what you will study during your paralegal training.
The American Bar Association explains that paralegals are expected to be individuals with excellent reading and writing skills.
Training typically consists of:
- General Education Courses
- Legal Studies Courses
Because certificate classes are the shortest programs, they are generally focused on legal studies courses. Some certificate programs may require the student to already hold a college degree in a related field, which means they will have already taken general education and elective courses.
An Associates Degree for Paralegal will include all three of these topics. And, a Bachelor’s degree in Paralegal or Legal Studies will be more in-depth and often allow the student to chose a specialty area.
Examples of Legal Studies Courses in a Typical Paralegal Training Program:
- Professional Communication
- Legal Research & Writing
- Case Law
- Legal Ethics
While a paralegal isn’t expected to pass a bar exam, they will be expected to have a general background knowledge in legal studies and types of law. After all, a paralegal is a legal aid. They are the assistants to the attorneys. So they need to know where to look to find the right information.
A paralegal is also expected to know legal terminology, and to possess the ability to represent their law firm in a professional manner.