is a paralegal certificate worth it?

by Anna
(Texas)

I'm trying to decide if a paralegal certificate is worth getting or not. If I can get by without one and save the cost of attending a program, I'd like that. Just trying to figure out if this is worth the time and money. Thanks.

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May 02, 2012
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Is it worth getting a paralegal certificate?
by: Elaine

This is a great question and it can make or break your decision to educate yourself to become a paralegal.

First off, in my opinion (if you have a different one, please share it) education in the paralegal field is both necessary and critical. It's necessary for budding paralegals to have either an associate's degree in paralegal studies or a bachelor's degree.

To obtain a paralegal certificate you need a bachelor's degree. There may be programs available that will accept you if you have more credits beyond an associate's degree, but generally speaking, a bachelor's degree is needed to gain access to a certificate program. Definitely do your due diligence before committing to any one program.

A certificate program is typically 12 to 18 months depending on the school. More importantly, when considering a certificate program, you'll want to seriously consider one that is approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).

The ABA designation is critical in my view because it sets a standard that hiring attorneys understand to meet basic educational requirements in preparing a non-paralegal for the paralegal profession. It's the dividing line between quality programs and those that may be viewed as okay or good, but not quite rising to the level of an ABA approved program.

Good, bad or indifferent, this is oftentimes a means to eliminate candidates and reduce the pool of applicants to only the best. Keep in mind that many attorneys graduate from top notch, name brand colleges and universities. Naturally, they're going to want to work with the best candidates available.

That is not to say that you can't or won't find employment upon graduating from a non-ABA approved program. There are other factors weighed such as experience level. However, you may find if you search your local listings on Craig's List for example, that law offices specify whether a certificate from an ABA program is required or not. Research the listings from other job postings to see what employers look for in your area. This way you'll be better prepared to know if obtaining a certificate from an ABA approved program is needed.

If you already have an associate's degree in paralegal studies particularly from an ABA approved program you likely will not need a certificate. Do your research and speak with the counselor at your school to find out all that you can to make an informed decision.

On the other hand, a bachelor's degree and no certificate could be a problem. A certificate or training in paralegal work will be necessary so that you have more opportunities rather than less. And, at the end of the day, you want more opportunities for employment and potential advancement which a paralegal certificate may help you achieve.

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