When you’re pursing a career as a paralegal, it’s important to have some understanding of paralegal degrees accreditation.
As a relatively new profession, the educational process for paralegals is still not completely standardized, but there are things you can look for in paralegal degrees to ensure that you will receive the best preparation possible. One of the things that you may especially want to look for is whether or not the school has been approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). While many programs still do not have ABA approval (since such accreditation is not mandatory) knowing that your program has the ABA stamp will ensure certain quality elements of your education.
How a Paralegal Program Gets ABA Approval
The American Bar Association established a standing committee on paralegal education about thirty years ago. The goal of the committee is to establish paralegal educational standards so that the law profession can most effectively utilize paralegal services.
They look at a number of factors in determining whether or not a school meets their standards. When they evaluate schools, they look at long the school has been running and how well their graduates are doing. They check enrollment and graduation numbers, the types of courses offered in the curriculum, and the make-up and background of the school’s faculty. They evaluate a school’s resources, including its library and classroom facilities. They also see how much counseling and job placement support a school’s students receive. They make an on-site visit to the school with a team of evaluators who then prepare a report for the ABA approval commission.
Once a school has ABA approval, that approval functions for seven years before needing to be renewed.
Other Organizations Besides the ABA
In the United States, there is no required paralegal certification exam and only one state, California, regulates the profession directly. So there is not a precise accreditation process for paralegal programs in place. The ABA standard is accepted by many people as a sign of a school or program’s rigor and relevance. However, if you are looking at a school that is not ABA approved, or live in an area where finding such a school is a challenge, there are other affiliations you can look for when you are choosing your paralegal educational program.
Some schools are members of the American Association for Paralegal Education. There are also three national groups: the National Association of Legal Assistants, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, and the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc., which have various regional or local chapters and can be excellent resources for helping you to find a quality training program, ABA approved or not.
There are currently about 275 ABA approved paralegal programs in the U.S. While it is not mandatory or even necessarily expected that you will attend such a program, finding one can at least assure you of a school’s commitment to excellence. Because these programs have to go through an intensive evaluation process and the approval must be periodically renewed, you can be sure assured that paralegal degrees accreditation is being taken seriously.