Selecting an Online ABA-Approved Paralegal School
|Program Levels||Associate degree, postgraduate certificate|
|Field(s) of Study||Paralegal|
|Prerequisites:||High school diploma or equivalent for associate; associate or bachelor's degree for a postgraduate certificate|
|Online Availability:||Hybrid or traditional only|
|In-Person Requirements||At least 10 semester hours must be in a traditional classroom setting; internship may be required|
|Program Length:||2 years for associate degrees; 18 months - 2 years for postgraduate certificate programs|
|Licensure/Certification||Voluntary certification available|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Paralegal education programs are designed for students who wish to perform legal work, usually under the direction of a lawyer. Because of ABA requirements, students who wish to complete a paralegal program must choose a program that is hybrid or fully traditional. Additionally, most paralegal programs are not designed for flexible scheduling or continuing education. Depending on their current education level, students can enroll in an associate degree program or a postgraduate certificate program. A few schools offer online courses as part of the curriculum, but there are not any fully online paralegal certificate programs approved by the ABA.
ABA Approval Requirements
The American Bar Association has required that in order to gain approval, schools must require students to complete at least 10 semester hours of legal specialty courses in a traditional classroom environment, which makes it impossible to have ABA-accredited online paralegal certificate programs. Therefore, all ABA-approved paralegal programs must be hybrid or on-campus programs.
Class Format and Flexibility
In choosing an online paralegal program, students should also be aware that unlike most online or hybrid programs in other disciplines, many paralegal programs are not designed for flexibility in hours or assignment deadlines. Most paralegal programs require students to turn in assignments on a regular basis and often to attend lectures and discussions at scheduled times via webcam, using a headset and microphone for voice communication. Some programs allow for more flexibility than others, and students should choose the best paralegal program that fits their specific needs.
For students who already hold bachelor's degrees, certificate programs provide the quickest route to a paralegal career. Associate paralegal degree programs, which include a general-education component, are more appropriate for high school graduates or GED holders. Graduates of associate programs have the option of transferring their credits to a bachelor's program for further study.
Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies
These programs are designed for students with a high school education who wish to enter into a career as paralegal professionals. Associate degrees in paralegal studies can usually be completed in two years, but more accelerated programs are also available. Classes focus on areas such as:
- Criminal justice
- Law and contracts
- Trials and litigation
- Personal injury
- Legal research and writing
Postgraduate Paralegal Certificate
A postgraduate paralegal certificate is for students who already have a bachelor's degree or an associate degree. A postgraduate certificate is usually designed to take at least 18 months, but completion times may vary depending on the institution and how accelerated students wish to make their education programs. An internship may be required. Courses are similar to those in the associate degree program, and include:
- Civil procedure
- Administrative law
- Intellectual property
- Business organization and practice
- Law office management
Paralegal certificate and associate programs prepare students to perform legal work under the direction of a lawyer but it is not possible for a fully online paralegal program to meet American Bar Association standards.