Accredited Paralegal Training Programs
The American Bar Association (ABA) has currently approved approximately 250 paralegal programs in the US. While its true that many employers of paralegals don’t require it, graduation from an approved training program can provide new graduates with more and better job opportunities, especially in the biggest cities. The ABA approval process is voluntary and it should be noted that many paralegal programs, such as the one associated with Duke University (a top program), choose not to pursue accreditation because it takes considerable time and resources.
To be approved by the ABA, a paralegal program must be affiliated with an educational institution that is accredited by an ABA-approved accrediting agency. The actual program must meet certain criteria relating to faculty and administration, resources, curriculum and academic policies, program focus, admissions requirements, and services available to students. According to the ABA, accredited paralegal programs must:
- Be part of an accredited educational institution;
- Offer at least 60 semester units or 90 quarter units of classroom work;
- Has an advisory committee whose members are attorneys and paralegals representing both the public and private sectors;
- Employ qualified and experienced instructors;
- Have adequate financial support from its parent education institution;
- Is accredited by, or eligible for accreditation by, an accrediting agency recognized by the Council on Post-Secondary Accreditation;
- Provides adequate student services, including counseling and job placement;
- Have an adequate legal library available to paralegal students; and
- Feature appropriate facilities and equipment to support the program.
If a program wants approval it must submit an extensive self-evaluation document with considerable support behind it. The programs hoping for approval receive a visit from an evaluation team, and if approved, the timeframe of the approval is seven years. Most years the American Bar Association approves one or two programs.
There are regional accrediting bodies, and they may review and subsequently grant accreditation to paralegal programs within their jurisdictions. These accrediting bodies must go through a recognition process with the federal government (usually the Department of Education) before gaining the right to accredit paralegal programs. If a program is accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, students will likely be eligible for federally funded financial aid programs, including low-interest loans.
In some locations, paralegal school accreditation or approval is provided by state or local bar associations. Distance learning paralegal programs are accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council not the American Bar Association.
The curriculum at most paralegal programs consists of general education courses as well as an overview of law and specifically, the paralegal field; litigation, including civil and criminal procedure; legal research and writing; ethics; and specialized legal courses in areas of law including real property, bankruptcy, estate planning and probate, family law, personal injury and corporate law. More and more paralegal curriculums also include training in the computer applications used by paralegals.