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What you need to know about ABA-approved online paralegal programs

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Myths and realities of ABA-approval

In the past not all paralegals went to paralegal school, but today law firms may prefer to hire paralegals that have an American Bar Association (ABA) approved paralegal degree.

“Most lawyers worked hard to get into an ABA-approved law school. The approval carries credibility and weight among many employers in the legal community,” said Peter Smart, legal assistant for John K. Zaid & Associates, a law firm based in Houston, Texas.

But what if you’re looking for an online program to earn your paralegal degree and want an ABA-approved school?

The American Bar Association sets the standard for paralegal education, and its mission statement reinforces its commitment of “developing and promoting policies relating to the education, employment, training and effective use of paralegals, and to serve as the body to set standards for paralegal education.” In addition to overseeing the approval process, the ABA monitors trends in the field and strives to be a top-tier resource for those interested in the paralegal profession.

Online paralegal programs are a convenient option for aspiring paralegals, especially for career-changers who have a degree but want to become paralegals and need to work while they earn their certificate or diploma. But they can also be education game-changers for people who have to work and go to class, or raise a family while attending school.

But currently, the ABA does not approve any 100% online degree program. However, it does recognize the value of online education, and has given the “ABA-approved paralegal degree program” stamp to certain online classes within traditional degree programs.

The ABA also insists that online and regular schools seeking program approval from the American Bar Association “is a voluntary process, and the lack of ABA approval does not mean a paralegal program is not of good quality or reputable.”

Support from the legal industry

Many practicing paralegals recommend ABA-approved paralegal programs for those considering going into the legal field. Lawyers also find that high-quality paralegal training ensures their legal staff will have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed and support the firm’s policies and procedures. In addition to the educational benefits of the ABA stamp of approval, it may offer a distinct hiring advantage over paralegals with similar work experience who didn’t attend an ABA-approved school.

Benefits of an ABA-approved paralegal degree

Some of the benefits to attending an ABA-approved paralegal training program include:

  • You may have top-notch professors who are practicing lawyers or paralegals with valuable on-the-job experience.
  • ABA-approved paralegal degrees have a well-rounded curriculum that gives you the knowledge and skill set you’ll need to be a successful paralegal.
  • Curriculum is reviewed regularly by the ABA.
  • Employment assistance may be provided by ABA-approved schools to help potential job placement.
  • Paralegal education from an ABA-approved school may increase your chances of getting a job, a raise or potential future promotion.

The ABA understands that technology is changing the way students go to school and learn, and it does support paralegal education in an alternative online format. While the ABA has not certified fully online ABA-approved paralegal degrees as of now, they recognize that a percentage of paralegal courses can be taken online for programs that they do approve.

ABA-approved online paralegal programs

To receive ABA approval for any online paralegal courses, schools must comply with the following requirements:

  • Students must spend as much time in instruction as they would in a traditional class.
  • Schools must provide course materials to the ABA for each online course so that the ABA can verify the quality of coursework.
  • Faculty members must respond to students who have questions, and provide them with feedback on assignments and tests.
  • Schools must verify the identity of students submitting work or taking a test online.
  • There must be technical support to ensure the school’s technology and LMS work properly, or in case of technical difficulty.

The ABA is diligent in maintaining the terms of approval for online paralegal programs in order to ensure that the standards and credibility of the association remain intact.

Online vs on-campus paralegal courses

Everyone learns at a different pace, and there are many reasons why online classes could be ideal for some students.

Online courses may have more lenient or convenient scheduling options. Additionally, online lectures and learning environments may benefit those who don’t thrive in the in-person classroom environment or need more (or less) time to learn the materials. Online classes could break down a location barrier for those who live in a remote location, in the military, or have other responsibilities during traditional lecture hours.

There are new ABA-approved paralegal programs every year, and some of these may offer online courses, so students should research and find the best and most credible program that meets their needs and has coursework in the area of paralegal they may want to specialize in. The ABA conveniently provides a database of approved programs so you can check schools in your state.

joe edwards

Written and reported by:

Joe Edwards

Staff Writer

peter smart

With professional insights from:

Peter Smart

Legal Assistant, John K. Zaid & Associates