The well-publicized growth in paralegal job opportunities has led to a corresponding growth in paralegal certification programs vying for your tuition dollars. This glut of offerings, however, means that your experience may vary from program to program.
A variety of institutions offer paralegal certification programs:
- 4-year colleges – Usually offered in conjunction with a Bachelor’s Degree (which itself is an advantage in this field). These are some of the most highly regarded, but priciest, programs.
- Community Colleges – These institutions led the charge to establish paralegal certification programs, and some are among the longest-running programs in the country, but quality can vary in some of the newer programs.
- Online Certification Programs – These are increasingly common and are gaining respectability, but check provisions for classroom time and teacher/student contact.
- Vocational Schools – Often advertised on TV and newspapers. Be wary of “correspondence” programs requiring no class time whatsoever.
The American Bar Association (ABA) evaluates paralegal certification programs on a voluntary basis. Higher-profile firms in large cities often favor graduates of ABA-approved programs. Do not assume that a particular program is accredited; some online or vocational school programs operate with very little oversight.
You will likely need to pay some kind of application or registration fee, but these fees should be nominal, and you should question any that are substantially larger than those at other programs. Most paralegal certification programs offer financial aid, but be sure to compare the terms to those you can get from state and federal loan programs.
Once enrolled in a program, try to take courses in a variety of subspecialties even if you have a particular specialty of interest. Writing skills are especially important in this field, so consider taking a business writing course if one is not offered as part of the program.
Internship programs are vital to your employability after graduating. Most paralegal certification programs offer – or even require – internships. The better programs will have established relationships with the major employers in the area, and you should not hesitate to ask where students have interned.
It is also important to look into a paralegal certification program’s job placement assistance. Paralegal job prospects are often exaggerated, and new graduates without experience can have difficulty finding employment in a down economy. If placement assistance is available to alumni as well as new graduates, this is a sign that program graduates are actually working in the field - the ultimate measure of a paralegal certification program’s effectiveness.