Looking for a quality paralegal studies program can sometimes resemble the proverbial hunt for a needle in a haystack. A Google search on "paralegal programs" yields over 8 million hits, and 24 paid advertisement placements. With such results, how can you not find a program?
The goal, however, is not simply to find a program, but rather to find the right program for you. Try these tips:
- Start with accreditation. Look for a program that is accredited or approved either by the American Bar Association or the American Association for Paralegal Education. While these approvals are voluntary, they give you some degree of assurance that the program meets minimum standards.
- Talk to practicing paralegals in your community. Not only will this create some valuable networking for your career, but you'll also find working paralegals to be an incomparable source of support on training programs (not to mention potential employers).
- Check out your local technical college or four-year university or college. Many will offer certificate and Associate's Degree programs. Four-year schools may also offer a baccalaureate program; if you haven't already obtained a bachelor's degree, you may want to give some thought to doing so. College graduates earn substantially more (in some cases, up to 70 percent more) than their colleagues who have only a high school diploma or the equivalent.
- Contact national associations or their local chapters. Three such associations are the National Association of Legal Assistants, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, and the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. Check out their websites and talk to local members. (Helpful Tip: Also consider becoming a member of one of these organizations. Many professional groups will maintain student-level memberships, which generally carry smaller annual dues structures.)
- Don't overlook local bar associations and lawyers in your area. As the primary employer of paralegals, they'll often have the best information available on local and regional programs and the quality of training they provide. Call and ask to speak to the attorney in charge of hiring paralegals or legal assistants, or to the office manager.
- Check your Yellow Pages for area employment placement agencies. Call and ask if they place paralegals, and whether they can give you any information on training programs.
- Don't overlook the web! However, rather than a basic Google search for "paralegal program," start with one of the links provided below and browse through the directory of programs provided.