I came across your Facebook page and wanted to speak with you. I currently hold a bachelor’s degree, and am interested in going into the paralegal field and have researched a lot of paralegal certificate programs. I have found some that are ABA-approved and many non-ABA approved. Unfortunately I do not have the finances to invest in an expensive course as some of the community colleges are charging around 10 grand for their programs. I have found one that is non-ABA approved, but would allow me to sit for the NALA exam after the course is completed. The price is a bit more affordable for a 6-month program. I am wondering if you would recommend this. Also, I may have located an internship with a legal aid society for the fall.  ~ MA Paralegal Education Seeker

Practical Paralegalism’s Response

Thanks for contacting me. I know how challenging it is to pursue further education on a budget, especially if you already have student loan debt. If you read my blog, I do discuss paralegal career paths fairly often, and have had some recent reader questions posted about transitioning to the paralegal field.

To be honest, I can’t recommend most paralegal programs, simply because I’m not familiar with them. I do recommend that people start with the programs listed in ABA-approved directory, http://apps.americanbar.org/legalservices/paralegals/directory/allprograms.html, but absolutely understand that’s not always an option.

As far as a six-month certificate program, you don’t say whether it’s on campus and/or online, which can make a difference. Of course, getting the NALA certification, http://www.nala.org/certification.aspx, is always a big plus on a legal staffer resume. But you really need to do your homework to find out if attorneys in the area where you want to work are receptive to the training program you are considering. Some employers aren’t as impressed by the shorter certificate programs as they are by the longer two and four-year degree programs – but then there are some certificate programs whose reputations are so outstanding, especially for training paralegals that already have bachelor’s degrees, that they are welcomed by many employers.

I think the best way to check out this program, as far as its reputation with local employers, is to talk to graduates and local legal professionals. You should also do your homework regarding job placement and loan default rates for the program:  http://www.practicalparalegalism.com/2010/06/do-your-homework-before-enrolling-in.html

If you haven’t already joined a local paralegal association, this would be a good way to meet legal staffers and discuss area hiring trends. I do think earning the NALA certification and having strong references from internships will carry some weight with prospective employers. Also, if you are able to find an entry-level legal staff position while working on the degree, that will make a huge difference.

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Readers, any additional suggestions?

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