Choosing a Program

If you have decided to enter the exciting paralegal profession, you should consider completion of a paralegal program to help you realize your goal. Because there are many different kinds of paralegal education programs, selecting the one that is best for you can be a challenge. Here, and on linked pages, are the tools you need to identify paralegal programs you might wish to attend and to assess the quality of these programs.

The material presented on the Choosing a Program, Educational Standards, Evaluating Programs and Finding a Quality Program pages is the joint product of AAfPE, the American Bar Association, the Association for Legal Administrators, the International Paralegal Management Association, the National Association of Legal Assistants and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. These groups and their members share the common interests of encouraging high standards in paralegal education and providing information about the field and paralegal education to the public.

Paralegal…a growing profession

The paralegal profession has grown tremendously since it first appeared in the mid-1960s. There are now more than 120,000 paralegals in the United States. Presently, paralegals are involved in sophisticated legal work in traditional law office settings and in the corporate, government and public arenas. The occupation has achieved great recognition and has moved rapidly to professional stature.

Obtaining a quality paralegal education is the best way to prepare for the paralegal profession. Since a paralegal education requires a substantial commitment of time, effort and money, the decision about which program to choose should be made with as much information and care as possible.

Regulation of paralegals has been and continues to be discussed at a national level and by many jurisdictions. However, no state currently requires paralegals to be licensed and, as a result, no standardization of educational programs or criteria for employment has been established. This is another reason why a prospective paralegal student should examine carefully different programs before making a final selection.

Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in the career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession.

Types of Academic Programs

Having a formal paralegal education has become increasingly important. Even though there are an estimated 600 paralegal education programs in the United States, paralegal education is not standardized.

Paralegal education programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Various kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, business colleges and proprietary institutions. These various institutions make it possible for persons with diverse backgrounds to enter the profession. 

The most common types of programs are:

Associate Degree Programs
These programs are offered by two-year community colleges, some four-year colleges and universities, and some business schools. Upon successful completion of 60 to 70 semester units, a student earns an associate degree. The curriculum usually consists of approximately one-half paralegal courses and one-half courses in general education and related areas. In selecting a program, prospective students should consider whether they might continue their education to earn a four-year degree at another college and, if so, should investigate the transferability of courses in the programs they are considering.

Baccalaureate Degree Programs
Paralegal education is also offered by four-year colleges and universities which have a paralegal studies major, minor, or concentration within a major. These programs are usually about 120 to 130 semester units, including 30 to 60 semester units in paralegal and related courses. Upon successful completion of the program, the student is awarded a baccalaureate degree.

Certificate Programs
Various kinds of educational institutions offer paralegal certificate programs ranging from 18 to 60 semester units. Longer programs usually include both general education and paralegal courses, similar to associate degree programs. Certificate programs are usually designed for students who already hold an associate or a baccalaureate degree.

Master's Degree Programs
A few colleges and universities that offer undergraduate paralegal degree programs are now offering an advanced degree in paralegal studies. Other universities offer advanced degree programs in law-related areas such as legal administration and legal studies.