Paralegal Program Overview
With close to a thousand paralegal schools at locations in every state, as well as distance learning and online paralegal programs, future paralegals have plenty of options to find a paralegal school that meets their specific needs.
Your choice of paralegal school may depend on a variety of factors. If you want to specialize in one area of the law, you can find paralegal schools that offer coursework focusing on your area. Or, if you want to enter the field quickly, many programs provide a good foundation in law and legal research that you can complete in as little as a few months.
Here are some factors to consider when evaluating paralegal schools.
1. Program Accreditation
Find out if the paralegal program has accreditation by the American Bar Association or other regional accrediting body. Many non-accredited paralegal schools are dedicated to training competent paralegals, and not all markets have local schools with accreditation.
If the school is not accredited, it's important to know whether it will fulfill the requirements to qualify for certification. Also talk to potential employers about the importance of accreditation; if school accreditation is important to them, you need to consider that before you choose a paralegal program.
2. Length of Study
Paralegal degree programs range from as little as three months to two years. Shorter certificate programs are appropriate for those who already have degrees or who have previous legal experience, perhaps by working as a legal secretary. Longer associate's or bachelor's degree programs may be more desirable for recent high school graduates or others without a secondary degree.
Legal studies programs offer a certificate, associate's or bachelor's degree, and differ from criminal justice programs—where your focus is specifically criminal law—and paralegal programs, which focus on application of the legal process—by giving you an education in civil, administrative and criminal law.
3. School Location
Laws vary from state to state, and there is a definite advantage to attending a paralegal school in the location you want to work. It also gives you the chance to become familiar with state and local laws, as well as make contacts for future job hunting.
Paralegal schools offer a variety of options to suit students' needs. You may need a paralegal program that allows you to work while completing your coursework, one that offers evening classes, or one that has both full-time or part-time study options.
If family or work obligations are a concern, you may need a program that offers online or home study courses. In addition to lifestyle flexibility, attending paralegal school part time allows you to spread the cost of your education over a longer span of time.
5. Curriculum and Faculty
Do the focus and philosophy of the paralegal school match your needs and interests? Is the faculty made up of practicing or former lawyers and paralegals? Both are important considerations.
6. Paralegal Internships
Find out if the paralegal program provides a variety of internships. Internships give you the opportunity to gain some real work experience, learn which areas of the law interest you most, develop contacts and gain school credit.
If you are interested in a particular specialty area, ask the paralegal school's guidance counselor whether they have placed students in law firms or other organizations that focus on your area of interest.
7. Career Services
Make sure you select a paralegal school whose faculty and staff are just as committed to helping you find a job as they are to teaching. The school should be able to tell you what percentage of its graduates take a certification exam and what their job placement rate is.
A good paralegal program not only prepares you for your paralegal career, but also helps you find that first job as a successful paralegal.