The Importance of an ABA Accredited Paralegal School


The ABA is the American Bar Association, and most law offices and legal departments only hire graduates of paralegal programs that they recognize as accredited. It is also very difficult to get financial aid if you are not studying in an accredited program, and it's almost impossible to transfer your education to a more advanced program if the school and its paralegal program weren't accredited. It is clear to see just what a crucial factor this is.

There are many reasons why ABA accredited schools are so important for paralegal students aside from the obvious ones. It makes job applicants more competitive because employers can assume that the graduate is trained in the established methods of the legal profession in an efficient and effective manner. The guidelines for ABA accreditation include an evaluation of the curriculum, faculty, technological tools and other factors of the school. Institutions of higher learning go through the ABA approval process voluntarily, but it is rare to find a school that simply doesn't want to be accredited. It also makes the school more competitive.

Ask any state bar association, paralegal organization or law firm, and they will probably say they support ABA accreditation. It is particularly helpful for law firms because hiring personnel can have a clearer picture of the education and training that their applicants have if they know that all the applicants completed an ABA approved program. They know the education and training was comprehensive, modern, up to date and effective for the student.

You simply cannot assume that a school is ABA accredited. In fact, the majority of them are not. About one fourth of the approximately 1,000 paralegal programs in the country are accredited by the American Bar Association. This is not to say that the schools that are not accredited by the ABA do not provide a good education or that their graduates do not get jobs; many schools have been accredited by other esteemed organizations and provide an adequate education. However, when it comes to paralegal school accreditation, ABA-approved schools will simply open more doors in your career.



Author: Erik Johnson

11 comments:

R. E. Mongue said...

It is important that students investigate the quality of the program they are considering before enrolling and committing to the expenditure of thousands of dollars on a degree or certificate. However, there are many fine programs that are not ABA Accredited. ABA Accreditation itself costs schools thousands of dollars and hours of time that could be expended on student services if not devoted to the ABA. Some programs, while meeting most or even all of the ABA requirements, chose to put those funds into the program rather than into the ABA coffers. Note that there is no documented evidence for the often made claim that "most" law offices and legal departments only hire graduates of accredited programs. While this may true in some areas, it is far from true in many others.

Note also that the ABA Guidelines for Approval are designed by attorneys, not paralegals or paralegal educators. While I've been proud to be an attorney for over 35 years, it was not until I became a paralegal educator that I really understood the paralegal education process. The American Association for Paralegal Education's mission statement is "Recognizing the need to increase and improve access to the legal system, the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) promotes quality paralegal education, develops educational standards and encourages professional growth, in order to prepare graduates to perform a significant role in the delivery of legal services." Rather than run automatically to the ABA, prospective students should check the AAfPE website for assistance in Finding a Quality Program: http://www.aafpe.org/Paralegal_Education/index.asp

Elona M. Jouben, MPS said...

This article is faulty for several reasons:

1.) The ABA does NOT "accredit" paralegal programs, rather it merely "approves" those programs that 1) apply for ABA approval, and 2) meet the ABA guidelines. (See: http://www.americanbar.org/groups/paralegals/resources/general_approval_process_information.html)
2.) The article conflates "approval" with "accreditation," implying that lack of ABA approval will limit certain financial aid opportunities or the ability to transfer credits to another institution - these two things are related only to accreditation, not "approval".
3.) Paralegal programs may be accredited only by a nationally recognized accrediting agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education. (See: See US DOE’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs: http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/)

Many institutions seek ABA approval of their paralegal education programs in order to enhance their reputation and marketability to students. There are some nationally recognized institutions that tout their paralegal degree or short-term certificate programs as being offered “in conjunction with” their ABA accredited law school. These programs are not necessarily ABA approved, and ABA accreditation of an institution’s law school has no bearing or legitimizing effect on its paralegal program.

The author(s) of this article need a better understanding of the nomenclature of the paralegal profession. (See http://www.esrba.com/userfiles/october__2011_summation.pdf - article starts on pg. 9)

Christina Koch, ACP, MJCM said...

I strongly disagree with your article. I have been a paralegal for 22 years and my school was not ABA Accredited. Not only did it not prevent me from finding a job, it was easy to transfer my credits to my Bachelor's degree, and finally, obtaining my Master's degree. I also have seen very few, if any, job notices in my regional area that require ABA accredited degrees. I think paralegal certification and actual paralegal experience are much bigger selling points in the competitive job market. Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

I think you mean "ABA approved" instead of "accredited" if I am correctly interpreting the inferences you are making in this article.

Chere Estrin said...

Please be very careful when you write information about important matters giving so-called "facts".


The ABA does not "accredit" programs. Rather, it "approves" paralegal programs. Mistakes like these in reporting can literally cost paralegals their career or likely hood of getting a job should they put "accredited" on their resume.

Further, there are approximately only 120 schools that are ABA approved. There are over 1,000 paralegal schools around the country.

Schools that have not been approved is not necessarily because they were denied approval. The ABA process is very expensive and most of the schools do not have the funding to go through the process or they have been in business for less than 3 years which automatically disqualifies them.

Always check with the paralegal community, placement office of the school, paralegal associations and local employers to find out the reputation of the school. Most importantly, find out what firms hire from the school and if they are satisfied with the knowledge of the paralegals they recently hired. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Anonymous said...

I am the director of the largest ABA-approved paralegal program in the state of Arizona, the past President of the American Association for Paralegal Education, and a former member of the American Bar Association's Approval Commission for Paralegal Programs.

There are a couple of important distinctions that this article confuses and I would ask be corrected.

First, the ABA does not "accredit" paralegal programs. It "approves" them. The ABA only accredits law schools, not paralegal programs.

Also, obtaining federal financial aid is in no way dependent on a paralegal program having ABA approval. In order to obtain federal financial aid, a college, university, or other training program must be accredited by one of the regional or national accrediting agencies recognized by the United States Department of Education. But it has nothing to do with ABA approval.

Third, the ability to transfer credits is highly-dependent upon the policy of individual institutions of higher education. Typically, public institutions and the larger private institutions have regional accreditation and will only consider transfer credit from institutions that have the same type of accreditation. But there are other types of accreditation, including what is considered "national" accreditation and this is commonly seen in smaller, private, specialized institutions. Often, but not always, regionally accredited institutions will not accept transfer credit from national accreditation institutions. But ultimately, the transferability of credit is based on the policy of the school you want to transfer to and along with issues of accreditation there are always other restrictions.

Finally, the importance of ABA approval varies from market to market. Certainly, I put great value in ABA-approval since our program voluntarily subjects itself to the rigors of that approval process. But there are many fine paralegal programs in the United States that are not ABA-approved. Students should research their market carefully by talking with local paralegal organizations and the law firms in their area. Another resource for students is the American Association for Paralegal Education (www.aafpe.org)

Scott A. Hauert, Director of Legal Studies

Phoenix College
Phoenix, Arizona

Jenny Tucker said...

This article apparently has incorrect information throughout. After reviewing the comments left, I feel as though I should delete the article in order to not have misinformation circulating. I (Jenny Tucker)own this blog, and did not proofread a guest post before posting it to the site while I was away at trial. As a result, I have been labeled an amateur, and that is punishment enough :). I'll be leaving the post up for a bit for additional comments, but feel at some point I will need to delete this post in order to keep good information only on the site. Thanks for all the comments, both good and bad. Back to Work!

Cynthia said...

Hi Jenny,
I think you should leave this post and all comments on your blog.
It has been a wonderful learning lesson and ultimately does provide our Paralegal community with excellent information.
Besides, I think you have handled the situation with grace and honesty. This instance makes me feel you are, in fact, a credible and brave Paralegal who, guess what....is also a human being!
Your example of professionalism in this case makes me take further interest in your comments and contributions.
I say leave the post up!
It is informative in a multitude of ways!

Cynthia

Anonymous said...

I see you chose not to remove this article. I suggest you put a disclaimer close to you so that no one thinks you are endorsing the information.

Jenny Tucker said...

I was chided this morning in a comment by an anonymous person for not deleting this article. I agreed with Cynthia, above, that although this article is incorrect, the comments from others are very helpful and does show that there are others in the field with good knowledge to share.

Blake said...

I agree with Cynthia, Jenny, and am glad you left the article up because the comments are so valuable. I think the Aug. 6 commenter's suggestion to add a disclaimer at the top of the article is also correct, however. Often people do not bother to read comments to any given online posting, and in this case they are the good material that this article has spawned.

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