Individuals with a high school diploma or those looking for a career change into the legal field can consider an online paralegal certificate program. Students in these programs learn about legal procedures, how to perform research, and draft correspondence and legal documents. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that job opportunities for paralegals or legal assistants are projected to grow by 10% in the coming years, which is faster than average for all U.S. occupations.
Graduates of a paralegal certification program may pursue optional certification through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) or the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). While NALA only requires a high school diploma to apply for certification, the NFPA accepts certificate programs that are approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) or are members of the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE).
2020 Most Affordable Online Paralegal Certificates
These 25 schools offer the most affordable online paralegal certificates with tuitions under $12,000 per year. View our methodology for more details.
Eligibility for Paralegal Certification Exams:
NALA Certified Paralegal Exam: you are eligible if you have an undergraduate certificate in paralegal studies and a bachelor's degree in another field.
NFPA Paralegal Core Competency Exam: you are eligible if you have an undergraduate certificate in paralegal studies and an associate or bachelor's degree in another field.
If you have an associate or bachelor's degree in paralegal studies, you are eligible for both the NALA and the NFPA exams
The online certificate in paralegal studies offered at California State University is designed to suit both experienced legal professionals and novices in the field. The 360-hour curriculum includes nine continuing education units of online coursework in various legal areas, including family law, estate planning, criminal procedures, bankruptcy law, and criminal law. Students learn how to to assist trial attorneys, research the law, investigate facts, and interview witnesses.
Students complete assignments, readings, and quizzes through the Center for Legal Studies portal. Distance learners are afforded several resources to support their online education, including full access to the college library's catalog and technology support available days, evenings, and weekends. Upon completion of the online paralegal certificate, graduates are prepared to start a career as a full-time or part-time paralegal.
To enter the program, students must have a high school diploma or GED and be fluent in English. The college admits new students every seven weeks, which is also the duration of each online course.
#2 Wilson Community College
Annual Tuition: $4,288
Locations: Wilson (NC)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Wilson Community College offers students the opportunity to complete a fully online certificate in paralegal. The curriculum consists of 18 credit hours of coursework in civil litigation, law office management and technology, real property, and ethics and professionalism. The certificate is certified by the North Carolina State Bar and the Board of Paralegal Certification, allowing graduates to take the examination to become a state certified paralegal.
The program provides students with the knowledge and abilities to find and research public records, draft and file legal documents, and manage a law office. Graduates may also apply the certificate toward the associate degree or bachelor’s degree in paralegal technology at Wilson Community College. Online students have access to virtual tutoring, academic advising, and 24/7 technical support.
Students may begin the program in the fall or spring, and applicants must submit high school transcripts to be considered.
#3 Rio Salado College
Annual Tuition: $4,392
Locations: Tempe (AZ)
Rio Salado College offers an online Certificate of Completion in Paralegal program, which can be applied directly to the college's Associate in Applied Science in Paralegal. The 36- to 39-credit hour program can be completed in five terms if enrolled part-time or three terms full-time. The curriculum includes coursework in paralegal litigation, paralegal business law, paralegal writing, paralegal research, and law office technology for paralegals. Qualified students have the opportunity to complete an internship during their studies.
Students completing the paralegal certificate online gain knowledge in tort law, business law, and the fundamentals of litigation. The program prepares students for a career as a paralegal through effective oral and written communication, computer proficiency, critical thinking skills, and legal research techniques.
Many online courses are offered in an accelerated, eight-week delivery format. Distance learners have access to online tutoring, advising, library services, and help desk support.
#4 Mohave Community College
Annual Tuition: $4,420
Locations: Kingman (AZ)
Mohave Community College offers an online paralegal certificate. The 30-credit hour curriculum includes coursework in civil law and litigation, tort law, criminal law and procedures, and contract law. Students gain knowledge in legal writing, interpreting legal documents, understanding and interpreting case law, and understanding procedural problems, as well as skills in professional, interpersonal communication, computer proficiency, and critical thinking. Graduates have the experience and knowledge needed to complete the Arizona Legal Document Preparer Examination, qualifying them for a range of legal work under the supervision of a lawyer.
Online coursework is facilitated both synchronously and asynchronously. Students are responsible for completing course assignments, readings, discussions, or exams at specific times. Online students are offered several virtual resources, including advising, tutoring, workshop learning, and help desk support. Students can also access their coursework on any smart device through the online learning portal app.
Graduates of the online paralegal program are prepared for work in a law office, government agency, or private corporation in various roles, such as paralegal, trust clerk, title examiner, and legal investigator.
#5 Hutchinson Community College
Annual Tuition: $5,220
Locations: Hutchinson (KS) (and 2 others)
Hutchinson Community College offers an online paralegal certificate. Students in the 36-credit hour program have the opportunity to gain skills in organizing and maintaining records and files, scheduling meetings, operating and managing online databases, doing research, conducting client and witness interviews, and preparing legal documents. The curriculum includes coursework in family law, wills, estates, trusts, legal research and writing, business law, and legal ethics. Graduates of the online paralegal program are qualified for careers in private or public law offices, government agencies, courts, insurance companies, or corporate legal departments.
Students have access to a wealth of resources, including online services and support, and access to the library’s online catalog. The college library offers students access to thousands of online resources, including professional academic and legal databases and journals.
Applicants must have an associate degree to be admitted into the college and submit an online application and official transcripts.
#6 The University of Texas at San Antonio
Annual Tuition: $5,250
Locations: San Antonio (TX)
Accreditation: SACS COC
The online paralegal certificate program at the University of Texas at San Antonio is intended for adult learners who wish to become legal assistants. The program is designed and facilitated by practicing attorneys. Students have the option to complete a project in a local courthouse, complete a library research experience, and attend professional communication workshops.
The coursework is facilitated asynchronously through online lectures and discussion boards. The program is divided into three stages; each stage is about 13 weeks, and the program can be completed in three semesters or 11 months.
Students can receive a tuition discount if they enroll after attending an information session. Students cannot earn college credit from this program and are not eligible to sit for the paralegal certification exam after graduation.
#7 Lake Superior College
Annual Tuition: $6,000
Locations: Duluth (MN)
Individuals looking to become legal assistants can earn their certificate of paralegal studies online at Lake Superior College. The 30-credit curriculum covers legal terminology, rules, procedures, and principles used in the American legal system. Students take classes in interview and investigation methods, business law, legal writing, civil litigation, and legal research. A capstone course is required to complete the certificate program.
The certificate program can be completed in one year. Graduates can apply this certificate program to the 60-credit associate degree program in paralegal studies at Lake Superior College. Online coursework is asynchronous and delivered through the D2L Brightspace learning platform. Students have access to campus services like advising, tutoring, library resources, and more.
Applicants must submit an online application form (with fee) and transcripts from high school and other post-secondary educational institutions. Prospective students must be proficient in English.
#8 Massachusetts Bay Community College
Annual Tuition: $6,210
Locations: Wellesley Hills (MA)
The online certificate in paralegal studies program at Massachusetts Bay Community College is offered through the Division of Business and Professional studies. Graduates are prepared to work as legal assistants preparing documents, managing legal issues, and participating in investigations and client interviews. In this program, students will gain skills in legal research and writing. In addition to a core curriculum, students can take electives in real estate, business law, family law, and trusts and wills. This 27-credit program can be completed in two semesters.
Online courses are asynchronous and students must meet assignment deadlines and participate in discussion boards, online presentations and quizzes, and interactive simulations.
Prospective students must complete an online application and high school transcripts. No application fee is required. Financial aid may be available for eligible students.
#9 The University of Texas at Austin
Annual Tuition: $6,495
Locations: Austin (TX)
Accreditation: SACS COC
The online paralegal certificate offered by the University of Texas at Austin is a self-paced program that students can complete within 12 months. The curriculum provides a broad foundation in the ethics and legal principles of law. Students have the opportunity to choose elective courses like contracts law, tort law, criminal law, family law, and business law.
The curriculum is offered through Paralegal Space, an online learning platform. The program uses real-world case studies to teach students the techniques and skills they will need in the legal field. Graduates can pursue entry-level opportunities as paralegals and legal assistants in a variety of legal settings, from law offices to government agencies.
To enroll in the program, students must show proof of GED or a high school diploma and proficiency in word processing.
#10 (tie)American Public University System
Annual Tuition: $6,840
Locations: Charles Town (WV)
American Public University offers a 24-credit undergraduate certificate in paralegal studies. Up to nine credits can be transferred into the program. The curriculum covers litigation, real estate law, criminal law, research and writing, legal ethics, and law and policy. This program is suited for individuals who wish to become legal assistants at law firms, legal departments, or government agencies. Students will learn skills in research and writing and gain knowledge in legal terminology theories and concepts.
Online courses follow an asynchronous format. The program lasts eight weeks, and there are new session starts every month. Student services include academic advising, career services, disability accommodations, and more. Active-duty military personnel, National Guard members, and reservists have the technology fee waived.
Applicants to the program must show proof of a high school diploma or GED. There is no fee to apply, but prospective students must submit an online application.
#10 (tie)University of Massachusetts-Lowell
Annual Tuition: $6,840
Locations: Lowell (MA)
The undergraduate certificate in paralegal studies program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell is available fully online. This 18-credit program includes six courses covering various legal topics in real estate law, research methods, and litigation. Students can choose two electives from family law, corporate and property law, and women in the law. Students usually take one to two courses per semester, and there are three semesters each year in the fall, spring, and summer.
Online coursework is synchronous. Students have access to technical support and academic advisors. Graduates may directly seek employment, or they may apply the credits toward the Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice: Paralegal Option or the Bachelor's Degree in Liberal Arts with a Legal Studies concentration.
To apply, students must submit an online application and proof of high school degree or GED.
#12 (tie)Duke University
Annual Tuition: $6,995
Locations: Durham (NC)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Duke University Continuing Studies offers an entirely self-paced online paralegal studies certificate, designed by experienced paralegals and taught by practicing attorneys. Students have one year to complete 300 hours of coursework. The program is divided into two parts: essential skills and substantives. The essential skills component provides students with knowledge in legal fundamentals, legal terminology and technology, research, writing, motion practice, and the legal environment. Students select two courses in the substantives portion: contract law, tort law, criminal law, business organizations, and family law.
Students receive training in Lexis Advance and Westlaw Next for research assignments. Graduates of the program can access online tutorials, resources, and templates for a year after receiving their certificate.
Application prerequisites for this paralegal certificate online program include age and English language requirements, access to a computer, and either a bachelor’s or associate degree.
#12 (tie)University of California-Davis
Annual Tuition: $6,995
Locations: Davis (CA)
The University of California-Davis paralegal studies certificate program is offered through the Continuing and Professional Education department. The self-paced program is completely online and approved by the UC-Davis School of Law. Students can become a certified paralegal in six months. Students will learn essential legal skills, contract law, tort law, and an understanding of California-specific procedures for paralegals over 100 contact hours of study. For those interested in additional certificates, UC-Davis offers 22 different programs that certified paralegals can choose from to add other areas of legal expertise to their resumes.
Students in the program have access to a wealth of resources, including networking opportunities with instructors who have years of legal experience, a comprehensive library of resource materials including workbooks and an interactive study support site, and training in both the LexisNexis and Westlaw research databases.
Prospective students can register for the program at any time. Individuals considering this paralegal certificate online program should sign up for an information session to learn more about the requirements to attend.
#14 Liberty University
Annual Tuition: $7,020
Locations: Lynchburg (VA)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Liberty University offers an undergraduate certificate in paralegal studies. Courses cover paralegal studies, legal writing, research, civil practice, and the foundations of law. Students can also choose an elective in a specialized area of law: real estate transactions and property, tort law, criminal practices and procedures, or wills, trusts, and estates.
Online classes are eight weeks long and follow an asynchronous format. Coursework is delivered on the Blackboard platform. Students can finish in two semesters; however, the average time to complete the certificate is one year. Students have access to free electronic textbooks.
Applicants to this paralegal certificate online program must submit a fee, their official college transcripts (with a minimum of 1.5 cumulative GPA), proof of English proficiency, and complete a high school self-certification form.
#15 Hampton University
Annual Tuition: $7,200
Locations: Hampton (VA)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Hampton University’s online certificate in paralegal studies program teaches students skills in a variety of judicial environments. The 24-credit curriculum emphasizes legal research and writing. Courses cover law concepts and law specialties in torts and personal injury, criminal law, real estate, domestic relations, litigation, and trial practice.
Online classes run for eight weeks. Students enrolling in two courses per term can finish the paralegal certificate in one academic year. Online students have access to the Career Counseling and Planning Center while earning their certificate and as alumni.
To apply, prospective students must complete an online application (with a fee), provide official transcripts from all schools previously attended (minimum GPA of 2.0), standardized test scores, a letter of recommendation, and an essay.
#16 University of California - Berkeley
Annual Tuition: $7,970
Locations: Berkeley (CA)
UC Berkeley Extension offers an online certificate in paralegal studies. The certification program was designed by educators who are also paralegals. Students must take three core requirements and three electives totaling 360 hours of study. The program can be completed in a year or less.
Core topics in this program include the legal system, research and writing, and the discovery process. Elective courses cover specialized areas in law, including criminal, family, intellectual property, tort, and business law.
Students in the program have access to various resources, including practice exercise questions, information from lectures, mock exams, and labs to enhance research and writing skills. Additionally, online learners have access to a toll-free support number, workbooks, LexisNexis, and six months of Westlaw.
#17 Rasmussen University Online
Annual Tuition: $8,580
Locations: Multiple Locations
The online paralegal certificate program at Rasmussen University Online is suited for individuals who have already earned an associate or bachelor’s degree. By completing this 33-credit program, students will gain skills in legal analysis, research, writing, communication, and teamwork. The online curriculum covers current legal issues in intellectual property, blockchain, and cryptocurrency. Students must complete a paralegal capstone class that features an online simulation and a required research and writing project.
Online classwork is asynchronous, and the program can be completed in eight months. Graduates will be prepared for work as legal assistants in court, law firms, and government agencies. Online students at Rasmussen have access to campus resources such as advising and career development.
The application and enrollment process is completed online. Applicants are not required to submit test scores, but they must show proof of a high school diploma or GED and submit transcripts for previous colleges/universities attended.
#18 Cerro Coso Community College
Annual Tuition: $8,800
Locations: Ridgecrest (CA) (and 1 other)
Accreditation: WASC ACCJC
The certificate in paralegal studies program at Cerro Coso Community College is a 32-credit online program. The curriculum covers a foundation of the legal system and court system, including research, interviewing, legal briefs, and court procedures. Students complete core classes in business law, legal research, writing, and litigation and procedure.
Students take courses elective courses in specialized areas such as office management, bankruptcy law, criminal law, family law, tort litigation, and personal injury. Graduates can become legal assistants, legal secretaries, and title examiners and work with private law firms, local courts, corporate law offices, and more.
Online classes are offered in an asynchronous format for flexible study. The program can be completed within four semesters. Enrolled students have access to campus services such as library resources, a learning assistance center, counseling, military and veterans assistance, and career development.
#19 Prince George's Community College
Annual Tuition: $9,120
Locations: Largo (MD)
The certificate in paralegal/legal studies at Prince George's Community College (PGCC) is a 30-credit program that can be completed entirely online. Graduates can apply for employment in the legal field, or they may apply the credits toward the Associate of Applied Science in Legal Assistant at PGCC. Students in the program will learn investigative techniques, legal research, and critical thinking skills, as well as how to draft legal documents. The curriculum includes classes in legal writing and research, tort law, criminal law, legal ethics, and more.
Online coursework is asynchronous to allow for flexibility for students balancing work and personal responsibilities. Students will have access to a career coach, library resources, and other support services.
Prospective students may submit an online application and show proof of high school completion or GED to apply.
#20 Charter Oak State College
Annual Tuition: $10,056
Locations: New Britain (CT)
The certificate in paralegal studies at Charter Oak State College is a 24-credit program comprising of core courses and elective courses. The core classes cover legal procedures, civil procedures, legal ethics, legal research and writing, and technology in law. Students can choose four electives in various areas of specialization, such as bankruptcy law, criminal law, elder law, environmental law, health care law, insurance law, intellectual property, juvenile law, real estate law, and wills, probate, and administration. Credits from this paralegal certificate online program can be applied toward either an associate or a bachelor's degree at Charter Oak State College.
This accelerated program features eight-week courses taught in an asynchronous format through the Blackboard learning platform. Students have access to various campus services, including military support and the Women in Transition program, which helps single mothers complete their education.
Twelve credits can be transferred into the program, except for a class on legal research and writing. Students can submit an online application and their high school transcripts (or equivalent) to apply.
#21 Tompkins Cortland Community College
Annual Tuition: $10,500
Locations: Dryden (NY)
The 32-credit certificate in paralegal studies program at Tompkins Cortland Community College can be completed fully online. This paralegal certificate online program can be completed in two semesters. In addition to learning legal principles, students can take electives in criminal law, evidence, bankruptcy, and constitutional law. Curriculum topics include legal research, and drafting, litigation, real estate law, family law, and wills and estate planning. An internship in a law office is required to complete the certificate program.
Online courses are offered in an asynchronous format. Students can receive academic support through tutoring. Graduates of the program can pursue jobs as paralegals or legal assistants in various law offices and government agencies.
To apply, students must complete an online application (with fee) and proof of high school graduation (or equivalent).
#22 Roger Williams University
Annual Tuition: $10,825
Locations: Bristol (RI)
Roger Williams University offers three post-baccalaureate paralegal certificate programs in Healthcare, Nurse Paralegal, and Paralegal Studies. These online programs are suited for students who have experience in another industry and wish to make the switch to the legal field. The healthcare and nurse paralegal certificates are available for students with 60 credit hours or who have already earned an associate or baccalaureate degree. They must also have at least 4,000 hours of experience as a nurse. The paralegal studies certificate is intended to complement a degree program in another field.
This program is facilitated in an asynchronous format, and students have access to an academic advisor who can support them throughout the program. These online paralegal certificate programs are taught by practicing attorneys, sitting judges, and other legal professionals who work in a variety of law specialties and government agencies.
To apply, students must complete an online application (with fee) and show proof of high school graduation (or equivalent).
#23 Yavapai College
Annual Tuition: $10,980
Locations: Prescott (AZ) (and 4 others)
The certificate in paralegal studies at Yavapai College is a 30-credit program that provides students with the skills and practical experience they will need to become paralegals and legal assistants. The coursework covers contracts, ethics and the law, legal research and writing, and civil litigation. Students in the program will improve their written and oral communication skills and increase their technology and computer literacy.
A legal office clerk online certificate is also available. This 18-credit program consists of six courses in legal studies, office management, ethics and the law, and computer applications. The online certificate programs are offered in an asynchronous format.
Students can enroll online by submitting an application form and proof of high school graduation or the GED. Scholarships and financial aid may be available to eligible students.
#24 Webster University
Annual Tuition: $11,700
Locations: St. Louis (MO)
The graduate certificate in paralegal studies at Webster University is a 24-credit program that is available completely online. This program is a stand-alone certificate, or it may be a suitable complement to a Master of Arts degree. The certificate program covers legal research and writing, ethics for law and civil actions. Students will study torts, contracts, probate, business law, juvenile law, product liability, consumer law, environmental law, insurance law, bankruptcy law, property law, intellectual property, family law, and real estate.
Online coursework is hosted on the Canvas learning management system and follows an asynchronous format. There is no set log in time, but students must meet assignment deadlines. Online learners have access to campus resources, including academic advising, library resources, and counseling services.
Prospective students should fill out an application online and must submit official transcripts with a minimum of 2.5 GPA. Applicants must have earned a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution.
#25 Franklin Pierce University
Annual Tuition: $12,000
Locations: Rindge (NH)
The undergraduate certificate in paralegal studies offered at Franklin Pierce University is a 30-credit online program. Students in the program will increase their verbal and written communication. Graduates are prepared to sit for the national paralegal certification exam. Students in the program will improve their skills in verbal and written communication, perform legal analysis, and explore specialized areas in law.
This program is offered in an asynchronous format so that working students can achieve a balance between their school and professional responsibilities. Online students have access to campus services, including academic advising, library research databases, career services, and more.
To apply, students must fill out an online application and submit school transcripts, standardized test scores, a letter of recommendation, and an essay.
Overview of Online Paralegal
Paralegal studies programs are available at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and certificate levels, although the standard educational requirement for becoming a paralegal is an associate degree. Certificates in paralegal studies are available to students with a wide range of educational and work experience. Some certificates are designed for current professionals, while others are designed for students who are new to the legal profession.
Associate paralegal degrees teach students how to put basic legal principles into practice and build reasoning skills, as well as written communication and conflict resolution skills. Coursework typically addresses topics in commercial law, civil procedure, paralegal litigation, legal research and writing, and domestic relations. In addition to didactic coursework, students may have an opportunity to participate in an internship to gain hands-on experience.
Students who complete an associate degree program may choose to transfer to a bachelor's degree program in paralegal studies to enhance their knowledge of the legal system and complex procedures. Most undergraduate programs place an emphasis on courtroom conduct, investigative practices, and litigation. They may explore a variety of subjects, such as tax law, legal writing and research, legal ethics, wills and estates, and administrative litigation. Additional components of the program include seminars and internships.
A small number of schools offer paralegal master's degree programs to students who want to maximize their chances of advancing in an organization. Students may select an area of concentration in intellectual property law, international law, or government law. Typical courses include contracts, jurisprudence, and advanced legal research and writing.
Online Certificates in Paralegal
An online paralegal certificate program prepares students for work as paralegals in private law firms or businesses. The paralegal will have duties that include interviewing, investigation of claims, prep work of legal forms, research activities, as well as assisting lawyers in court and other activities. Some certificate programs are offered for beginning students, while other programs are only available to students who have completed an associate or bachelor's degree. For students looking to enter the field of law as a paralegal, the certificate program can be a positive step toward a better job, a new career, a higher salary, or just more knowledge of the field of law.
Certificate paralegal programs typically take between 10 months and 2 years to complete. Some online colleges offer a full-time curriculum that can be completed in as little as seven months. The length of the program will depend on the type of certificate you choose and the curriculum covered.
While all certification programs will have required courses, students are usually allowed some flexibility when choosing electives, which may help with different types of law and legal offices, such as family law, criminal law, intellectual property, or administrative law. Students should expect to take courses in legal research and writing, litigation, legal theories and analysis, contract law, corporations and partnerships, and legal office management. Certificate coursework often includes legal research, writing, and civil litigation, torts and personal injury, real property, constitutional law and criminal procedure, laws of evidence, and legal document preparation.
Those students looking to enter a paralegal certificate program without an associate or bachelor's degree will find classes such as business law, legal assisting, tort law & claims, legal writing, property and creditor rights, probate law, will and trusts, and a legal research lab. For those students entering a certificate program after completing an undergraduate degree, the classes may include legal analysis, computers and the law, torts, contracts, property law, civil litigation, and legal research. Ethics for the paralegal and technology for the paralegal will also be included. Students aren't usually required to complete a final project as part of their certificate program, but some schools require work experience or an internship.
Certification Requirements for Paralegals
Certification for paralegals is not mandated by any US state, but more and more paralegals and legal assistants are choosing to earn voluntary certification. Those seeking new employment may find that certification will make them more appealing in the job market. Paralegal certifications are offered by various national and regional legal industry professional groups. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) offer some of the most widely recognized paralegal credentials.
To become eligible for the NALA Certified Paralegal exam, applicants must meet these criteria. Those who successfully pass the NALA exam become Certified Paralegals (CP) and must complete 50 hours of approved continuing education hours every 5 years to maintain their certification.
To become eligible for the NFPA Paralegal Core Competency Exam, applicants must meet these criteria. Those who successfully pass the NFPA exam receive a Core Registered Paralegal (CRP) designation. For paralegals with an accredited associate or bachelor's degree in paralegal studies and two to six years of professional experience, the NFPA offers the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam which if passed, results in the Registered Paralegal (RP) designation. RPs are required to complete 12 hours of continuing education courses every 2 years to maintain their certification.
The Importance of Accreditation
Attending a reputable paralegal program will help ensure that you receive a high-quality education and have access to the most current information about the paralegal profession. Although enrolling in a formally recognized paralegal program won't guarantee immediate employment, corporations and firms often prefer to hire applicants from accredited schools because they can feel confident that students who graduate from these approved programs are knowledgeable and competent.
The US Department of Education (USDE) recognizes several agencies that evaluate and accredit schools and degree programs, and they provide a list of accredited schools and programs on their website. The American Bar Association is recognized by the USDE and provides a list of their approved paralegal programs, as well.
What Should I Know About Paralegal Programs and ABA Approval?
There are dozens of online paralegal training programs to choose from in the United States; choosing just one can be daunting. One concept you should understand as you research education options is the American Bar Association approval for paralegal programs.
The American Bar Association does not accredit paralegal programs in the same way that a regional accrediting body accredits colleges and universities. Instead, the ABA may offer its approval to paralegal programs, in exchange for a fee. The ABA approves paralegal training programs that meet certain standards of program administration. The majority of paralegal training programs do not choose to pursue ABA approval. Currently, the ABA does not approve training programs where the majority of coursework takes place online.
Do I Need to Attend an ABA Approved Paralegal Training Program?
In most cases, paralegals do not need to graduate from an ABA-approved program in order to find work. Only about 25 percent of paralegal training programs have ABA approval, so many graduates do not have the ABA affiliation. With this in mind, there are some employers who prefer to hire paralegals who have completed an ABA-approved program. It makes sense to investigate the type of paralegal work you want to do and prospective employers you might work for before choosing a paralegal training program. Talk to current paralegals who are doing the kind of work you want to do, and get their perspective on ABA approval.
What Should I Consider When Choosing an Online Paralegal Training Program?
You may decide that it makes sense for you to pursue an online paralegal training program, despite the lack of ABA approval. To find the best online program for you, keep the following factors in mind:
Instructor Qualifications: Look for programs with courses taught by licensed attorneys or experienced paralegals.
Online Course Style: Online paralegal programs may use one of a few types of online classes. Some use self-paced classes, where students do assignments at their own pace within a certain large time frame. Other programs have weekly video lectures and due dates like traditional classes. Still others are hybrid programs that require students to come to class to complete certain assignments.
Study Tools: High-quality online programs provide students with a variety of study materials, such as textbooks, workbooks, online practice exercises, and access to online legal databases.
Paralegals can specialize in specific types of law such as corporate law or civil law. All paralegals study the same basic skills such as legal writing and research or court operations.
At the associate degree level students learn foundational skills but, as students progress in their education, they can choose specializations that are interesting to them. It’s helpful for students to determine their area of interest early on in their paralegal education because there are different paralegal skill sets required depending on the type of law. For example, criminal law paralegals learn how to research cases, understand crime laws, prepare for trial, and interview witnesses, among other responsibilities.
Because there are so many different specializations for paralegals (ex: corporate, litigation, estate, family law, immigration, intellectual property, debt, freelance paralegals), acquiring hands-on experience through internships or practicums can help students identify which specialization to pursue.
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