Paralegal Education: Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?

Growing up, did you always know you wanted to be a paralegal?  Your answer is most likely no. But, now that you are a paralegal (or maybe you’re on your way to becoming one), you may still be uncertain as to what the future holds for you.

Depending on your career goals, the education to becoming a paralegal varies. In general, you have three paths to choose from, each with different paralegal education requirements:

  1. Are you seeking an interim job to get some experience? “Temporary” paralegals do not need long-term schooling or extra programs.
  1. Are you interested in becoming a paralegal long-term? If your goal is to become a career paralegal, your paralegal education requirements include a 4-year degree. You’ll probably also need additional schooling in order to specialize in a legal area.
  1. Do you eventually want to become a lawyer? We call this a “transitional” paralegal. As with the career paralegal described above, your paralegal education requirements include a 4-year degree, which you will need anyway in order to get into law school later.

Tips for evaluating your paralegal education options

As you dig deeper into the education required to be a paralegal, regardless of the path you choose, here are some questions to consider as you’re evaluating your education options:

Is it American Bar Association (ABA) approved?

Paralegals with ABA-approved certificates or degrees are usually more sought after in the job market. This is in part because the ABA has established a set of guidelines for the approval of paralegal programs, including:

  • Operating for a minimum of two years with graduates employed in the field to show a proven track record
  • Having an advisory committee that includes practicing lawyers and paralegals
  • Providing adequate resources in regard to staffing, facilities, technical and other supplies, library access and placement assistance
  • Offering a curriculum that mandates general education classes such as English or science, as well as specialty legal training such as legal research and writing, and classes in topics such as contracts, torts and probate
  • Requiring practical assignments
  • Offering direct interaction between students and faculty (which means programs offered exclusively online can’t be ABA-approved)
  • Encouraging and helping to facilitate internships and other practical experience

Will it fit in your schedule?

Next consider how the coursework is scheduled. How long will it take and will it fit with your current schedule? This is a major concern if you’re working full time while in school. Are classes at night? Online? Be honest with yourself: Will you be able to pursue these studies while still keeping up with your other obligations such as your current job?

Will it break the bank?

Consider the cost of the paralegal education offered. Can you afford it and does the cost make sense in the long run? Will you make enough money as a paralegal to justify the cost? If you’re planning on going to law school in the next two to four years, does spending money on a separate program now make sense financially if you’re going to leave the paralegal duties behind?

Is the school’s or certification’s reputation important?

Will the reputation of school or program help you in the long run? Some people interested in becoming a paralegal are more concerned with the reputation of the program or school, while others are more concerned with just receiving the degree. If reputation does matter to you, are you considering a program or school that has a longstanding, positive reputation?

What can the school or program tell you about their success rate for getting students placed in jobs? How many graduates get hired right away?

What other resources does the program offer?

Does the program offer other resources beyond the coursework? For example, are there internship opportunities, mentorship programs, or other ways to get hands-on experience? What kind of library resources are available, both in print and online?

Consider the kind of paralegal you want to be before starting your research into paralegal education requirements, because your end goal does affect your choices. You might also want to look into the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAFPE). Their website offers a wealth of information on paralegal education opportunities.