Thursday, August 11, 2011

I want to be a Paralegal! What school should I go to?

Getting a job as a paralegal can be difficult, as in any profession these days (except perhaps for blogging, woohoo), but it can be made easier if you have some credentials backing you up. The more letters you stick after your name and the more colleges you have listed in your C.V. the better for bringing in the dough. How many letters you put after your name is a matter of time and the money you can put into education. There are several options for this, depending on what you're willing to put into it. You owe it to yourself to get the best credentials you can.

If you're short on time - like you've got to get a job before next year or your parents are going to kick you out of the basement - a vocational school may be the option you're looking for. When you attend a vocational school you get a focused, intensive education in the field of your choice. Paralegal students at a vocational school typically encounter classes in legal analysis and writing, the process behind civil litigation, and other substantive law-related subjects.

While a community college or four year university may require that students complete a number of general education credits in addition to the classes necessary to declare a major, a vocational school is quite different in that only classes pertinent to the paralegal career are required. This means that students can graduate in as little as one year of study, and sometimes less. Vocational schools are also cheaper than other kinds of schools. This means a cheaper education. You may find yourself feeling all smug walking into an office for an interview, only to be shot down when you find the guy next to you has a Ph.D. and passed the bar exam.

Which brings me to the most popular option, the four year university degree and beyond. Firms just love hiring these kids because it affords a well-rounded education, sometimes even with a focus in Paralegal Studies (although most colleges don't offer that). The skills and sophistication you'll acquire will be easily recognized by employers, and you may even get to have a little fun on the way studying other things of interest that may not have real world application, like English. The problem with this route is that it takes a long time and a lot of money, and if you don't have much of either, you can end up swimming with the loansharks. Fortunately, a paralegal who boasts a four year degree is likely to get hired with a better salary and enjoy quicker promotion opportunities than paralegals without such a degree.

Another option to slam dunk a paralegal job is a two year degree at a community college. It's like the “just right” of these three options - a reasonable amount of time spent (and if you're juggling a job and other obligations you can take weekend or night classes), and the classes are reasonably priced too. Like a university, you’ll have to fulfill general education requirements in the sciences, social studies and other areas. Some of these appear irrelevant, but actually dabbling in English, writing, and mathematics can prove useful to those seeking a career in the legal field. Make the most of these courses, especially if you can find ones designed for paralegal studies. A solid GPA and a two year degree just might get you hired.

Again, it all matters on how much time and money you're willing to put into it. The amount of effort you put in is proportional to the respect your degree will get in the workplace, if not the salary as well. In an environment that becomes more and more glutted with people searching for jobs wherever they can get them, that extra note on your curriculum vitae may just be the key to sticking out from the crowd, or at least to getting out of your parents' basement.

Guest blog by Sydney Muray from


  1. What about ABA approval and going to get a paralegal certificate? I wan to go to the UCLA program. It requires a B.A/B.S. what do you think? Thanks for this! Peg

  2. ABA accreditation is a must. There are lots of sketchy programs out there, and the ABA eliminates the bad ones and highlights the good ones. Go for the UCLA program, I say!

  3. Hey,

    Sorry, I didn't see your comment until now, but I absolutely agree with Superlegal, you want that ABA accreditation.
    Even if it is less expensive,I would not recommend going to a program that is not ABA approved. I have encountered many firms that require you to have gone through an ABA approved program to consider you for a position.


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