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What are the Basic Qualifications for Paralegals?

What are the Basic Qualifications for Paralegals?

The qualifications required of a paralegal can vary dramatically throughout the legal industry, for three specific reasons.  There are rarely any standards which delegate expressly what a paralegal can do or is supposed to do.  

Often a paralegal who works for one firm may completely differ in responsibilities and duties from a paralegal in another (or even from another paralegal within the same office!)  The third reason, is that because paralegals are often not licensed positions, there are no set standards of education required to gain a job as a paralegal. 

Primary, what any organization hiring paralegals is going to look for is a basic understanding of administrative work, either in the form of training or experience.  

Experience in typing, writing, filing, organization, and correspondence is primarily going to be a must for anyone working in an office capacity.  Usually then, anything that indicates training has been received in administrative services or software application would be beneficial to a resume.

Also, displaying a background in a specific field that could be applied to law can make one desirable, especially to a firm that has expertise in that area.  And thought it may seem obvious, a paralegal must display either an adequate knowledge of the law or an enthusiasm for it.

Fundamentally, at least some training in paralegal work, even if it is a concentrated multi-week course can be beneficial, but for someone who is looking for on the job training, it can be almost as important to have administrative credentials as well as background of knowledge that an employer can take advantage of, as well as a stable work ethic. 

What any potential paralegal needs to show is fundamental capability which can overrule either a lack of experience or training.

Know the Education Credentials for Paralegals

Know the Education Credentials for Paralegals


The extent of education required for a paralegal occupies something of a gray area due in significant part because the paralegal positions are often determined by the needs of the company or department they are working for state bar exams in order to practice law, paralegals are generally unregulated by most jurisdictions, with the only limits placed on their positions being that they are unable to perform certain duties that are specified as being exclusive to a lawyer, and, in many cases, further specified as being under the direction of an attorney (or many attorneys).

What this means is that there are no set standards for which all institutions that hire paralegals (which include everything from a single office to a giant corporation) require a specific level of education, because it almost always is left up to the discretion of the individual or company doing the hiring.

In a sense, this has proven to be one of the elements that has made paralegal work a growth industry over the last few decades, as it represents a well paying, stable, and socially mobile field which requires minimal investment of time into education in order to be able to practice effectively.   paralegals have historically entered the field after either abandoning or giving up on becoming lawyers, or in bridging a period between legal work and passing the bar).

Toward this end, while being a paralegal was once a position that could often be learned on the job, and still is, avenues of education have begun to open up which provide specific training to those looking to expressly enter the paralegal field. 

Bachelors degrees in paralegal work are also available, and nearly always carry more weight than an associates degree on the job market, but also generally incur a greater expense than some feel is necessary.

For those who already have a degree in another discipline, there are certification programs which provide short term training in pertinent areas related to paralegal work, and are usually followed by an exam to acquire certification.

As a rule the quality of education varies depending on where one seeks to gain education and knowledge, with some organizations placing emphasis on the very basics needed for a position, while others try to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the law as part of their process.  

All of these variable should be taken into consideration when determining what kind of training one would like to pursue, while also keeping in mind that specific training is still occasionally unnecessary from organizations that are willing to train on the job. 

Do You Need Formal Paralegal Education?

Do You Need Formal Paralegal Education?

Since paralegals have only been around as a prominent profession since really the 1970s, and grew somewhat organically from a need within the industry for basic, non-specialized legal work, the nature of formal paralegal education has been slow in becoming uniform.  

This lack of consistent academic requirements can be linked directly to the nebulous definition of what a paralegal is.  And if the time comes where the position of paralegal becomes more regulated than it is now, then education will almost certainly become a prerequisite for licensing.

Formal paralegal education can be acquired on a number of levels, depending primarily on the prospective paralegal’s level of education.  Typically, associates degrees can be acquired over a very limited period of time, sometimes after only a year (it depends entirely on the level and amount of coursework required, and the ability for the student to commit full time or part time to their education).

Less common, but still very viable, are bachelors degrees in paralegal studies.  Often, people hiring in the paralegal industry will look to an applicant’s background to determine suitability based on the kind of legal work that their firm operates in, so a varied liberal arts background offered by a bachelors degree will always appear more lucrative than an associate degree focusing strictly on paralegal work.

Masters degrees are also available in paralegal studies, but are often not as popular because of their typically elevated cost.  However, masters degrees, combined with bachelors degrees, make potential applicants for paralegal positions more attractive than those with only bachelors or associates.

Finally, some paralegals also enter into the field after acquiring a law degree but have not passed the bar. 

The Truth About the ABA Approval Process

The Truth About the ABA Approval Process


Due to the varied means by which one can pursue training to become a paralegal, the American Bar Association has set upon a course of approving institutions and programs which provide training to perspective paralegals.  

The American Bar Association, or ABA, is a voluntary legal organization who membership numbers into the hundreds of thousand, whose main purpose is to set a voluntary code of ethics to be practiced by all members. 

Though they are not a government affiliated organization, they are adherence to and requirements to a certain level of ethical behavior means that membership by a legal professional in the ABA is seen as significant measure of quality and status.

The ABA has also historically involved themselves in the accreditation of law schools, which has become vitally important, as many state bar exams will restrict a potential lawyer from taking the bar exam if they did not graduate from an ABA accredited institution.   The oversight and approval of paralegal training and education programs are overseen by the ABA’s Standing Committee on Paralegals.

The ABA approval process is long and comprehensive, and features a detailed overview of a program’s curriculum, teaching personnel, tuition policies, and even makes on-site evaluations of the program.  

When an organization meets with initial approval,  it still must go through a seven year trial process where it expected to maintain its standards under ABA guidelines, during which time they will submit interim reports to the Standing Committee. 

Some organizations do not seek approval from the ABA, and can do so for a multitude of reasons, which could simply mean that their organization is not able to meet ABA standards, but there are other reasons, as well.  

Generally, most programs that offer paralegal studies as part of an academic institution, such as community college or a university, will pursue ABA approval in order to maintain a certain level of academic reputation. 

Generally, training with a program that has ABA approval is highly recommended for anyone looking to receive an education in becoming a paralegal.