If you've decided to pursue a career as a paralegal, congratulations! This is an exciting field that's growing exponentially each year. However, it does require some extensive training.
This article will explain your options for training. Other articles on this site will detail how to evaluate your options and how to succeed in your chosen program.
- Essentially, you have three options for training: a formal program offered by a two- or four-year institution or business school; a correspondence course; or on-the-job training. Each has advantages and disadvantages, depending on your particular circumstances.
- Training programs come in a variety of packages: certificate programs, Associate Degree programs, Bachelor's Degree programs, and even a few graduate studies programs.
- Certificate Programs: These programs are generally offered by technical colleges and business or correspondence schools. They are ideal for the future paralegal who already has an associate's or bachelor's degree, or who, for whatever reason, has elected not to pursue such a degree. The programs require anywhere from 18 to 60 hours of credit, as an average, and can last anywhere from a few months to a year or more.
- Associate Degree Programs: Typically offered by two-year colleges and business schools, this option will require approximately 60 to 70 hours of credit, about half of which will be paralegal training and half of which will come from general education electives. Students who successfully complete an AD program may even transfer to a four-year school to pursue a bachelor's degree.
- Bachelor's Degree Programs: Offered by four-year colleges and universities, some programs will bestow a paralegal studies major, while others will offer a minor or a concentration or specialization within another major. These programs require approximately 130 hours or more of credit.
- Graduate Degree Programs: Once unheard-of, a few institutions are now offering master's programs in paralegal studies, legal administration, and legal studies. Acceptance into a graduate degree program will depend on the student having a bachelor's degree and possibly taking standardized tests such as the GRE.
- On-the-job training is becoming more and more rare, but may still be available in smaller towns and rural areas, where formal training programs are not readily available. Typically, a lawyer or law firm willing to offer this training will look for a job applicant with at least a high school education and good basic office skills (typing, filing, basic math, and customer service skills). While this will enable the paralegal to perform her job duties, it will not lead to a formal qualification or certification.
- Correspondence schools should be carefully evaluated and checked out thoroughly before enrollment. Anyone can set up a website and call themselves a "business correspondence school." Make sure the school is accredited, and do your own research to ensure graduates really do receive the type of degree or certificate offered.