So You Want to Become a Paralegal—Breaking Down Your Educational Options

Wanting to become a paralegal and actually accomplishing your goal are certainly two very different things. After you have explored this exciting legal career and determined it is the career for you, it is time to decide upon your educational path.

It is clear that, for most individuals, a paralegal education is necessary. (The National Federation of Paralegal Associations reports that about 85 percent of all paralegals have some kind of formal paralegal education.) However, the educational path to become a paralegal is not always so clearly defined, thereby muddling the process a bit. If you want to become a paralegal, the first decision you must make is what type of education you want to pursue.

Are All Paralegal Programs Created Equal?

Paralegals may achieve their education from two- and four-year colleges or universities, post-baccalaureate certificates, and degrees or certificates from paralegal schools.

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) recognizes two-year degrees with an emphasis in paralegal studies as the minimum criteria to enter the profession; however, recent trends have shown that a four-year degree has become a hiring standard for many employers. As such, the NFPA now recommends that individuals interested in pursuing a career as a paralegal complete a four-year degree as to increase their chances for success in the marketplace. Another NFPA recommendation includes completing at least 24 semester hours in legal specialty courses as to round out a comprehensive paralegal education.

The NFPA Framework

To guide individuals when selecting a formal paralegal education, the NFPA has developed a suggested curriculum. This curriculum includes the completion of at least 24 semester hours of general education, including such classes as sociology, humanities, speech/communication, and mathematics, as well as 24 semester hours in legal specialty courses, such as litigation, legal research and writing, real property transaction, business and corporate law, and torts.

The NFPA has also suggested that individuals seek paralegal programs that are approved by the American Bar Association. Any program that has been approved by the ABA has met or exceeded the standards established by the ABA in terms of faculty, quality of instruction, job placement, and curriculum, among others.

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