Certificate in Paralegal Studies

A paralegal certificate is not required to be hired or to work as a paralegal. However, a paralegal certificate is recommended to be marketable if you do not have certain other skills or attributes. Gaining a certificate in paralegal studies is not the same as becoming a certified paralegal. The two have key differences and are attained through different channels.

An individual who has completed his or her educational paralegal studies may receive a certificate, not certification. This can be achieved by completing a four-year or two-year degree from an American Bar Association (ABA) recognized and accredited college or university. If the school does not offer a certificate, you can obtain one from an ABA accredited program. These programs require you to have a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree prior to entering. It is recommended to attend an ABA approved certificate program, rather than one that is not, to show the validity of the certificate earned.

The ABA does not offer certificates and does not educate paralegals. The ABA stands to serve as an official recognition for those wishing to further enhance their status. The ABA does not rate the certificate programs other than the official endorsement. To be considered ABA-accredited, the schools and programs must undergo rigorous tests and be held to high standards. This means the certificate is regarded highly among legal professionals.

Paralegal certificate programs are offered in a live classroom setting, as well as online. As a general rule, the 30 semester hour credit course load considered full-time has live classes that are actually offered only in the morning hours or evening, not a typical full-time course load. The certificate can be earned in as little as seven months from some traditional classroom programs and ten months from a blended or online setting. Many certificate programs also have a time limit for completion; the certificate must be earned within five years of beginning the program.

Although obtaining the paralegal certificate from a completely online course fits well into most working individual’s lives, finding one that is 100% online may be difficult. The ABA approves only a few of these total distance learning programs. This is due to the rigorous approval process necessary to be considered ABA-approved since distance learning is still not considered a traditional educational program or learning method. The best place to find the listing for these programs is through the American Bar Association’s website or by contacting the ABA.

Of course, a paralegal certificate can be very valuable to an individual looking to be hired into a law firm. The certificate can serve to advance the paralegal career of those who are already a part of a law firm. It can also be a great asset for those actively seeking employment in a competitive job market.

There are, however, some disadvantages to a paralegal certificate. As trends in the legal industry change so do educational requirements and expectations. Having only a paralegal certificate may not be enough for the future trends of this career. Individuals certainly do not want to take the time and to spend money on this certificate if it is not going to earn the acceptance and respect they desire.

Similarly, although in most cases paralegals are expected to have an education and get continuing education credits regularly, experience is something that is not overlooked. An individual with a degree and experience in a law firm may be more desirable to attorneys than an individual with the same degree and a certificate. The choice is going to be at the discretion of the hiring manager or attorney at each law firm.


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