Paralegal programs are extremely common; there’s no definite number, but the American Bar Association estimates that there are more than 1200, including certificates, associate’s, and bachelor’s programs. However, not all of those are ABA approved paralegal programs. According to the ABA, around 22% of paralegal programs have been approved, which would mean more than 265 programs nationwide. Regardless of where one goes for higher education, ABA approved paralegal programs are found at both community colleges and four-year universities, and pressure to earn ABA approval is slowly increasing.
Is Getting a Paralegal Certificate Worth it Without ABA Approval?
That is not to say that non-approved programs are not worthy to attend. Many schools with non-ABA accredited paralegal programs are highly respected; plus, if you’re looking for an online paralegal program, you’re going to have to go with one lacking ABA approval – the Bar Association doesn’t approve online programs at all. That’s right – there are no ABA approved paralegal programs online, no ABA paralegal certificate programs online, and no schools with paralegal programs that can claim to have an online paralegal program approved by the ABA. If they say they’re ABA approved, they’re referring to the on-campus program only, and that goes even for the best online paralegal certificate program.
Choosing a school that is backed by the American Bar Association will provide better paralegal opportunities and top quality education for those interested in a Paralegal degree in Law. In fact, some employers will hire students who graduated from ABA approved schools over applicants who did not. But ultimately, it has comes down to what’s right for you. If your job schedule or family life situation makes an online paralegal program the only option, choose the best online paralegal certificate program you can find, and don’t worry about ABA approval. It will work out in the end.
How Long Does an ABA Approved Paralegal Program Take?
ABA approved paralegal programs include both certificate programs and associate’s degrees; how long a paralegal program takes depends on the type. Certificate programs can be in a stand-alone form, or they can be designed to be added to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program. Certificates can be as little as 21 credits, or as much as 40. The average paralegal associate’s degree is usually 60 credits – half a bachelor’s degree, with general education and basic paralegal courses. Schools with paralegal programs provide studies of interest, such as law enforcement, criminal justice, and legal comprehension. Office administration and secretarial science would also be addressed.
An accelerated ABA approved paralegal program can be brief, completed in as little as 6 months. However, the average is about one year for a certificate program, and one to two years for an associate’s degree. For those interested in an ABA approved paralegal program at the associate’s level, the average cost is $6000; however, it can cost as much as $15,000.
Paralegal Job Outlook and Salary
The career path of a paralegal can come with a variety of job options. For instance, employment can be found as a title examiner. The title examiner works meticulously with real estate and mortgage documents. Administrative and organizational skills are required, along with understanding the legal system in great detail. A title examiner may also research documents within both public and private sectors. Paralegals may find work as a litigator or investigator for a law firm as well. The job entitles the paralegal to oversee local panel counsels, prepare hearings, and dispositions in court, and schedule conference calls.
The work can be demanding, since many paralegals tend to work more than 40 hour per week workloads. Nevertheless, the job can be very rewarding. Depending on the locality of where one lives, the average salary can be quite lucrative. The median salary according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics is $50,410. Yet, depending on the employer and the experience attained, salaries have been reported as high as $88,000. It’s one of the highest-paying jobs out there that can be done with just a high school diploma or associate’s degree.
The bottom line is this, the American Bar Association would like all paralegal programs to be ABA approved. In fact, it has now been considered the “accepted standard” to abide by. While there are still many institutions that choose not to apply for ABA approval, that choice puts the ball in your court as a prospective student. Once you know what ABA approval is, and the advantages and disadvantages of ABA approved paralegal programs, you can decide for yourself what route works for your career goals.