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What accreditations should I look for in a distance learning program?

By David Helfand

Q: I am interested in a career as a paralegal. I have chosen distance learning as a way to get the education I need. My question is, What accreditations should I look for in a distance learning program that will be excepted by law firms and other organizations that I might seek employment from?

A: With regards to distance learning an overall general accreditation is offered by the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) but that doesnt necessarily mean that a particular distance learning paralegal program is one of those recognized by the American Bar Association. Over 800 formal paralegal training programs are offered by 4-year colleges and universities, law schools, community and junior colleges, business schools and proprietary schools. Currently, there are over 240 programs approved by the ABA. Even though this approval is neither required or sought by many programs ones employment opportunities are enhanced if they finish such a program.

Earning a voluntary certification from a professional society can have advantage in the job market as well. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers a 2-day exam leading to the title of Certified Legal Assistant (CLA). In addition, theres the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam, administered since 1996 by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), which offers professional recognition to paralegals with a bachelor degree and 2 years experience. Those who pass are designated Registered Paralegals (RP).

If youve identified specific distance learning paralegal programs it may be worthwhile contacting the professional associations listed above to see if you can get some feedback with regards to overall quality and acceptance in the field. In addition, you may want to do information interviews with related professionals in this field, in the area where you live, to get their feedback as well.

The booklet, How to Choose a Paralegal Education, is available from the American Association for Paralegal Education.

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