An ABA paralegal is a paralegal that received training through an American Bar Association-approved program. Many employers and professional organizations seek paralegals who have completed a course of study through an ABA-approved program, thereby speaking to the ABA’s legitimacy in the United States. In fact, an ABA-approved educational program is often considered more prestigious and respected than similar programs without the ABA seal of approval.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 1,000 institutions that offer formal training programs for paralegals, but just 270 of those programs are approved by the ABA.
Q: Who approves programs for ABA paralegals?
A: The Standing Committee on Paralegals approves ABA-Approved Paralegal Education programs to “enhance their careers goals as a paralegal.” The Standing Committee, although it doesn’t provide ratings for ABA-approved educational programs, provides an approved status to help individuals find programs that meet specific standards.
Q: What types of educational programs are approved by the ABA?
Because the ABA recognizes that the paralegal field is open to individuals with a number of educational backgrounds and jobs or careers experience, the ABA approves programs found within two-year community colleges, four-year institutions, and business and proprietary schools. As such, the ABA approves programs with various admission requirements, duration, and characteristics, thereby allowing individuals to seek programs that best meet their professional goals.
Q: What are the approval guidelines for ABA-approved educational programs?
ABA-approved educational programs must meet specific guidelines and educational standards. The Standing Committee on Paralegals and Approval Commission ensures guidelines are met through the investigation of self-evaluation reports and on-site evaluations. Programs are approved by the ABA for a period of 7 years.
Educational programs are recommended for approval and reapproval twice a year to the ABA House of Delegates, and a list of all ABA-approved educational programs is listed on the American Bar Association’s website.
ABA-approved educational programs must:
- Have an advisory committee that includes practicing lawyers and paralegals, both from the public and private sector, as well as faculty and school administrators and one or more members of the general public
- Maintain equality in its education program and adhere to all discrimination law
- Have financial resources adequate enough to sustain a paralegal education program
- Maintain a program that qualifies its graduates to be employed in paralegal careers or paralegal jobs
- Be at the postsecondary level of instruction and include at least 60 hours of general education and legal specialty courses
- Have program directors and instructors with the appropriate education, knowledge and experience
- Have a full-time faculty or administration member responsible for the direction of the program
Q: What are the professional certification opportunities for ABA paralegals?
A: ABA paralegals have additional professional certification opportunities that other paralegals do not. For example, candidates seeking certification as an American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) through The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc., unless they possess a bachelor’s or graduate degree, must be a graduate of an ABA-approved program.
Other professional certification opportunities for ABA paralegals may be found through: the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), which offers the Certified Paralegal (CP)/Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) designations, both of which are recognized by the American Bar Association; and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), which offers two credentialing examinations:
- Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCE) – For early-career and entry-level paralegals
- Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) – For advanced paralegals
Q: What are the salary statistics for ABA Paralegals?
Although a number of sources report that students from ABA-approved programs earn more than students from other programs, solid statistics were not available.
The 2010 National Utilization and Compensation Survey Report by the National Association of Legal Assistants reported that the national average salary for a paralegal was $52,188 in 2010. The NALA report also found that paralegals with 1 to 5 years of experience earned $37,282; paralegals with 6-10 years of experience earned an average salary of $43,747; and paralegals with 11 to 15 years of experience earned an average salary of $51,227.
Q: What resources are available for ABA paralegals?
There are a number of helpful sources for individuals who want to learn how to become ABA paralegals:
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- National Association of Legal Assistants
- National Paralegal Association
- American Association for Paralegal Education
- The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.