Choosing between ABA-approved and non-ABA approved certification program...

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Heidi in Bellingham, Washington

87 months ago

I am graduating next month and will then have a BA in Sociology. I am currently looking into two different certification programs (in Seattle, WA) for Paralegal work that begin in September.

Does anyone have advice on the importance of being certified through an ABA-approved program?

My first choice is the University of Washington Extension Certification program. Although it is NOT directly ABA-approved, it is approved by the University of Washington School of Law - which IS ABA-approved.

My second choice is through a community college, which offers an Advanced Paralegal Certificate (advanced because it requires BA for admission). This IS ABA-approved, just not as prestigous as my first choice.

Therefore, is ABA-approval or prestige of greater importance? Does it matter more for a recent graduate of the program or more in the long run with years of
experience?

Thank you!

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MH in Union City, California

87 months ago

I'd suggest you go with the ABA-approved program. I realize getting a paralegal certificate from a community collge is not as prestigious-sounding as getting it from the Univ. of Washington. Not all employers require an ABA-approved, but when you want to apply to the firms that do, you will find that you've limited yourself by not meeting that requirement.

Perhaps you can look at local job postings in your area to see if an ABA-approved paralegal cert. is required in most of those ads or not.

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Paralegal in Los Angeles, California

87 months ago

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MH in Union City, California

87 months ago

This is in response to the above poster who said "Moreover, ABA-approved paralegal programs generally require a Bachelor's degree for entrance." I don't think that's true, at least maybe not where I'm from. There are three community colleges that offer paralegal studies programs near where I live, and two are ABA-approved. I think ABA-approved just means the school meet certain requirements the American Bar Association set forth, and the approval can be costly for the school to maintain. There shouldn't be any more requirements for enrollment in an ABA-approved school than in a non ABA-approved school.

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Toni in Washington, District of Columbia

86 months ago

Go with the better school. The ABA began approving programs in the 1970s because at that time most programs were non-credit and there were no other agencies overseeing them. The University of Washington is subject to more stringent oversight through its accrediting agency than the ABA offers.

Is there any research to suggest employers would value a community college certificate over a university certificate on the basis of ABA approval? I am not aware of any.

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paralegal in Gaithersburg, Maryland

86 months ago

I just read the first 15 paralegal want ads for DC. There are large firms and small, legal recruiters, government agencies and in house counsel. Not one asked for an ABA approved program. They asked for bachelor's degrees, paralegal certificates, certain GPAs, certain levels of experience, but not one employer asked for a graduate of an ABA aproved program.

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Cindy in Lexington, Kentucky

86 months ago

Personally, if you intend to stay local, go with the more prestigious school. If you will relocate, go with the ABA approved.

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saquorya smith in Cincinnati, Ohio

85 months ago

I truly believe it is the particular region in which you are searching for employment that makes a difference. As a paralegal it is your job to research and find these things out. In the law field, there are some hotspot regions that do not care about ABA or non-ABA, they just want a person who can work their load, and do everything a paralegal is supposed to do. The regional hotspots for entry-level paralegals are atlanta, new york, boston, and washington, d.c. preferrably in the spring time. There is always work in washington d.c. for entry level paralegals. what i will say is that your longevity in the career depends on how much you decide to diversify your skills and your want for continued education. But I don't think ABA is going to make or break your career.

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Kward in Shallotte, North Carolina

84 months ago

Can anyone give any feedback as to a need to have a bachelors or an associates degree? I am in a program right now that is an associates and they do not offer a bachelors. Yet if I get the associates I am worried that it may not transfer later to a bachelors somewhere else. Do I really need a bachelors or can a career be made from an associates?

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Michelle in Hayward, California

84 months ago

Kward in Shallotte, North Carolina: "Can anyone give any feedback as to a need to have a bachelors or an associates degree? I am in a program right now that is an associates and they do not offer a bachelors. Yet if I get the associates I am worried that it may not transfer later to a bachelors somewhere else. Do I really need a bachelors or can a career be made from an associates?"

Does your associates program require general education classes (not related to paralegal career) in addition to paralegal classes? If so, those general education classes can count for 2 years of the 4 years required to complete a bachelors degree, should you choose to pursue one in whatever major later on.

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paralegal in Gaithersburg, Maryland

84 months ago

If you can possibly manage it, get the bachelor's. It will serve you well for the rest of your life if you have one and it will hurt you for the rest of your life if you don't.

The highest paid paralegals are those with master's degrees, the second highest are those with bachelor's degrees and post-baccalaureate certificates in paralegal studies. The third highest are those with associate's degrees.

The paralegal profession is quickly moving up to the point where a bachelor's degree is a minimum requirement for most firms. The Charlotte market is still small enough where you can get a position with an associate's, but it won't be so for long.

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Kristina Ward in Leland, North Carolina

84 months ago

I need to do an online program due to my lifestyle. Is there any bachelors program that is both online and ABA approved? I have only found Pierce that is out of PA but it is a little expensive. Can anyone help?

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paralegal in Gaithersburg, Maryland

84 months ago

The ABA will not approve any online programs. There are plenty of excellent programs. George Washington University has a great online master's program -- you can see it at onlinegwu.com

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Jeannie P in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

84 months ago

Guide

Hello to all you talented paralegals out there. I'm a recruiter in Oklahoma City, and I'm looking for a paralegal with estate planning experience. If anyone is interested (or knows someone who is), please drop me a line at jpelletier@westaff.com.

Thanks for your time!

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Paul in Petal, Mississippi

83 months ago

I would like to know if a Masters Degree in Paralegal from a non ABA approved university is the better route over ABA approved Bachelor's program. I hold Bachelors and Masters degrees in Business Admin. Paralegal in Gaithersburg responded with reference to George Washington University's Masters program, however I can not find any information as to whether or not GWU is ABA approved.

Secondly, what are opinions about male paralegals. I am interested in the legal profession and believe I would enjoy the aspects of paralegal work (research etc.) without the demands of going through 3-4 years of Law School.

Expert Advice Needed.

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legal eagle in Washington, District of Columbia

83 months ago

GW is a highly selective, credit bearing master's degree, one of the only paralegal master's degrees in the country, and it is associated with the GW law school, one of the top law shcools in the country. It is not ABA approved.

I have spoken to many, many employers and legal recruiters about ABA approval, and they all say employers do not care one bit whether a program is ABA-approved.

If the school is unknown, you might want it to be ABA-approved to ensure that it is legitimate. But everybody knows GW is a great school, and you don't need the ABA to tell you that.

Men are doing quite well in the paralegal profession.

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GG in Birmingham, Alabama

83 months ago

As a former personnel recruiter, I can tell you the one thing legal employers care most about is experience and knowlege. I had one girl who was aba graduate but little experience vs girls who had community college associate but more experience and they got the jobs. I never placed the aba graduate, she got a temp job on her own.

I would say if you have a choice, go for the aba school, however, if you want to work for the top firms. Remember, with the top firms there is also a grade require B+.

I do disagree with legal eagle to some degree in that if there are two candidates with approx same years of exp, they will go for the aba school. But top firms in my area are losening up on the aba requirements, somewhat, but not on having a bachelors and experience. Remember, each city is different. Small and mid sized firms really don't care, they want the experience.

Good luck!!!

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GG in Birmingham, Alabama

83 months ago

Heidi what did you decide to do?

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M in Hayward, California

83 months ago

To "Paul in Petal, Mississippi"

A Masters in Paralegal seems excessive to me. An Associates (2 year degree) is all that one really needs to become a paralegal. Of course, having a Bachelors degree (does not have to be in Paralegal studies) in addition to that would impress more employers. Choose an ABA approved school when you can.

Male paralegals are rare to see, but of course there are some. As the poster above indicated, it depends on the perception and progressiveness of the lawyer/law firm you're applying to.

Associate lawyers do most of the legal research, as far as I know.

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paralegal in Gaithersburg, Maryland

83 months ago

I guess it depends upon where you live.

In the big cities, masters degrees are common. The paralegal profession is attratcing more men, and younger people, as it becomes more prestigious and more highly paid. It is quite common to find men in the paralegal corps and in positions of leadership in the big firms.

Many firms, banks, agencies, and corporations are using paralegals to do substantive legal work, including legal research. This is especially true for the more highly educated paralegals.

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Heidi in Renton, Washington

83 months ago

GG in Birmingham, Alabama said: Heidi what did you decide to do?

Thanks for asking. I enrolled with the UW Paralagel Studies program, which I enjoy very much. I have learned a lot so far in just six weeks. However, I feel as if I no longer have a life - full time work and night school...

The way one of my teachers explained the importance of ABA as it applies to Seattle, was that it does not matter much when you compare a CC associates/certificate program to a bachelors/certificate program - bachelor (in anything) and certificate will usually be to your advantage.

I currently work at a medium-sized law firm, where one of the paralegals that I work with received her certificate from Edmonds CC a few years back - she's very good at what she does. However, I have heard from past UW certified students that UW has a long history with many law firms in Seattle. They do a lot of placement with firms like Perkins Coie, Woodcock Washburn, and many others.

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Palmetto CDF in South Carolina

83 months ago

Why don't you call potential employers? Ask to speak to the office manager. Say that you are researching training for the paralegal field and would value their advice. After all it is their opinion that counts.

If the majority point you to one school or the other you will know.

Follow up with a thank you note; you will want to follow up with the helpful managers later to inquire about an internship. The internship will be more important that the school training.

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Palmetto CDF in South Carolina

83 months ago

P.S. Ask what software they use. You may want to learn Quick Books or some other accounting system.

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paralegal in Gaithersburg, Maryland

83 months ago

That's excellent advice. Especially the part about the thank you note. If you approach the firms in a professional and engaging manner, you may end up with a job offer.

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Miranda in Layton, Utah

80 months ago

I have a problem. Hope you all can help. I want to go to school for Paralegal studies but the only schools offering it in my area are non-ABA approved. The closest (and only one in Utah) school that is approved is 1 1/2 hours away. Do I go for it anyway? Also, do you all think an Associate's degree will be sufficient in today's work force? Thank you!

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legal eagle in Silver Spring, Maryland

80 months ago

Paralegals with master's degrees earn the highest salaries of all.

Paralegals with bachelor's degrees plus post-bacc certificates earn the next highest salaries.

These stats come from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov).

No employer will turn away a good applicant with a high GPA, a bachelor's degree, and a post-bacc certificate from a good school just because the certificate comes from a program is not ABA-approved -- especially if the certificate is from an accredited university.

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legal eagle in Silver Spring, Maryland

80 months ago

If the non-ABA program is an otherwise good program, it probably enjoys a good reputation in your community. It is likely that most of the paralegals in your community will have attended that program, as it is the only one in the area. So you should be fine going to the local one.

Try asking the paralegals in your town where they received their certificates.

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MH in San Jose, California

80 months ago

legal eagle in Silver Spring, Maryland
"Paralegals with master's degrees earn the highest salaries of all.
Paralegals with bachelor's degrees plus post-bacc certificates earn the next highest salaries.
These stats come from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov)." -

I really don't think a masters degree is neccessary for a paralegal career. The expenses and time spent on a masters degree will not increase a paralegal's salary; years of experience will.

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paralegal in Gaithersburg, Maryland

79 months ago

Congratulations, GG, on joining a great program. Don't worry --you'll get your life back when school is done and it will be even better, because you'll be a paralegal!

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paralegal in Gaithersburg, Maryland

79 months ago

My bad -- I mean, congratulations Heidi.

Thanks, Displaced Legal Professional!!!

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Professional Paralegal in Washington, District of Columbia

79 months ago

I have heard that with the economy getting a little tighter 1) there will be more jobs for paralegals since they are less expensive to hire and maintain than lawyers; 2) there will be more jobs in litigation and fewer in corporate law as companies grow less and sue more.

So job seekers should focus on honing their litigation skills -- learn the major litigation technologies (Summation, Concordance, CaseMap, Trial Director, electronic filing), get comfortable with LexisNexis and Westlaw, and be sure they know the major litigation documents: pleadings, discovery demands and responses, notices, briefs, motions, and settlement materials.

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JK in Florida

79 months ago

I am considering pursuing a career as a paralegal. I have 25 years in healthcare both in clinical and administrative positions (though not an RN). I also have a Bacc degree in Bus Admin. I would like to know if an online certificate program from an accredited university/program and my background would suffice vs going to a full or part-time "brick and mortar" institution (ABA-approved or not) to begin this career change. My interest is in utilizing my background and experience in healthcare, take advantage of the Bacc and use the Certificate for entry.

Any thoughts?

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paralegal in Gaithersburg, Maryland

79 months ago

JK, your background in health care should serve you very well in a personal injury, insurance defense, medical malpractice, workman's compensation, or health care law firm. A paralegal certificate always helps but with your vast professional experience, you may find a position without one. It can't hurt to try.

It sounds Displaced Legal Professional has had some bad experiences, but DLP's experiences are far from universal. All the paralegals I know are very happy in their careers. Further, most law firms highly value people with professional experience and are happy to include career paralegals in their practices.

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JK in Florida

79 months ago

Thank you for your posts. I, too, have dealt with many abusive healthcare professionals. But, while abusive situations might be considered universal within a profession, I have found that they are unique to an individual and circumstances. It did not deter me from continuing in healthcare as long as I have, and has provided me with tools to deal with those situations in the future.

I have read all of the posts here and have taken advantage of the advice provided. I have reviewed bios of paralegals from across the country (I did not want to stay regional)and saw the programs/certificates they have, I have reviewed discussions regarding ABA-accredited instituions vs online, degrees vs certificats, etc.

My current plan is to take an online program from a major university and become accredited from one of the three paralegal accrediting bodies. I further intend to make my own "internship" with a local firm that specializes in medical issues once the program is completed. Once I have appr a year of experience, the certificate and certification, the Bacc and the years of Healthcare experience, I would hope that I can then pursue opportunities.

I would like to know if that might be a viable plan that would allow me to enter the profession quickly, knowledgeably, with a good opportunity for employment. I am certainly not averse to moving outside of Florida. In fact, that is my goal.

I would appreciate any comments.

Thank you.

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Top Paralegal in Gaithersburg, Maryland

79 months ago

Your plan sounds great.

Go with the best university you can find and get a good degree. Your experience, positive attitude, flexibility, and hard work will take you far. Taking the NALA, NFPA, or NALS exam will prove your accomplishment and dedication to the profession.

Firms really want paralegals who will be career paralegals, as opposed to paralegals who plan to work for a year or two and then go to law school. Getting a degree from a major university and then taking the exam will show that you are professional paralegal and make you very attractive to the best firms.

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JK in Florida

79 months ago

Thank you all for your responses. I do read them carefully. I do want to make an informed decision.

I currently have a Bacc degree in Bus Admin from a large university. I have seriously been considering an online paralegal program such as the one Boston University (and others) offer which will provide a certificate and prepare you for accreditation.

Having worked in healthcare for a number of years, I have witnessed healthcare professionals that will opt for an online certificate and then accreditation (if an internship is provided, all the better). It is a well recognized and well accepted avenue in healthcare for professional advancement.

Would a credible online certificate program, passing an accreditation exam from one of the three bodies, an internship I create for myself (I intend to find a firm that is involved in healthcare litigation, though I do not wish to "pigeon hole" myself in that venue only), and my current educational and professional experiece be enough to enter the field easily and in a manner that would be accepted? I do intend to make it a career.

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Top Paralegal in Gaithersburg, Maryland

79 months ago

JK, I really think that what you have outlined will give you what you need to enter the paralegal profession.

Good luck.

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Top Paralegal in Gaithersburg, Maryland

79 months ago

By the way, JK, Duke University and George Washington University also have online programs. All three are GREAT schools.

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Mark in Boston, Massachusetts

79 months ago

legal eagle in Washington, District of Columbia said: GW is a highly selective, credit bearing master's degree, one of the only paralegal master's degrees in the country, and it is associated with the GW law school, one of the top law shcools in the country. It is not ABA approved.

I have spoken to many, many employers and legal recruiters about ABA approval, and they all say employers do not care one bit whether a program is ABA-approved.

If the school is unknown, you might want it to be ABA-approved to ensure that it is legitimate. But everybody knows GW is a great school, and you don't need the ABA to tell you that.

Men are doing quite well in the paralegal profession.

Does anyone know how rigorous the Paralegal program at GW is? Can someone who is not exactly Ivy League calibre, like myself, survive it?

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legal eagle in Washington, District of Columbia

79 months ago

The GW program requires a GPA of 3.0 for admission. It is rigorous, but not out of the range of a college graduate with a good record and a good work ethic. It is certainly worth it for you to investigate it and make preliminary inquiries.

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JK in Florida

79 months ago

I would like to know if anyone is familiar with Boston University's online certificate program and whether that might be considered a worthwhile program.

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legal eagle in Washington, District of Columbia

79 months ago

I don't know the program personally, but if it's BU, it must be pretty good. Here is the link to BU:

professional.bu.edu/cpe/paracert.asp

Here is the link to George Washington:

Classroom-based program
www.nearyou.gwu.edu/plx

Online program
www.onlinegwu.com/plx

And here is Duke's:

www.learnmore.duke.edu/certificates/paralegal/

Of the three, only GW offers a master's degree and only GW's program is an academic credit bearing program. But, frankly, they all look good to me.

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Marie Ballerini-Campbell in Frederick, Maryland

79 months ago

Hi Heidi:

I am a parelegal in the Washington DC area. You are better-off going with an ABA accredited program of study if you want to tale the PACE, RP, and possibly in the future, NFPA and AACP designation. I have recently come across this issue myself. I have a paralegal certificate and that's all. I want to take the RP exam, but I do not meet the criteria. Other paralegal associations do have have the stringent requirements, but this is a profession that is quickly becomming a more widely recognized higher standard professional accolades. Although, you will find in your future employment, that even with those who have a higher degree of education, are not necessarily more intellegent, actually, I have met more people with a BA, that are dumber than a bag of bricks, but, if you are looking for opinions and experience, please feel free to contact me. I am a member of American Alliance Paralegal Association, Inc. and after doing extensive research on the various paralegal/legal assistant associations, I chose this one becuase I believe they have higher standards and that is what I want for this profession.

Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions or want to discuss your future endeavors and fears, or excitement... Like many positions in life, this is a very rewarding, yet thankless job sometimes.... attorneys are better than most attitude, but if you are confident, strong and open and able to accept crustructive criticism, you will be just fine. Hey, paralegals live for challenges!
In any event, I wish you the very best of luck!

Marieballerini@comcast.net
mcampbell@tspclaw.com
www.myspace.com/wingin_it
and if you have Verizon cellphone service: 240.372.5766

All the best!

~Marie

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Lynn Gale in Manhattan Beach, California

78 months ago

Displaced Legal Professional in Denver, Colorado said: paralegal in Gaithersburg, Maryland: "I guess it depends upon where you live.

"In the big cities, masters degrees are common...."

Denver is a big city. Not once in eleven years in the legal profession have I seen job ads or posts which require a Master's degree. A significant number of ads require Bachelor's, of course. A significant number require "paralegal certificates," with many of those requiring ABA certificates.

That's not to say that many Master's holders aren't paralegals; I know at least one. I have seen nonlawyer JDs applying for paralegal work. I've also seen or known licensed attorneys work as paralegals.

Really, the bottom line is an Associate's, with a Bachelor's being much more preferred. And, again, the major doesn't really matter.

"Many firms, banks, agencies, and corporations are using paralegals to do substantive legal work, including legal research...."

I agree that organizations that employ paralegals use them to do substantive work. I understand substantive work to mean such things as drafting pleadings, preparing disclosures, preparing expert witness designations, writing client opinion letters and writing demand letters. "Advanced" work that associates ordinarily would do. I've done all that. I do not agree about legal research. Of course, paralegal responsibilities and their titles vary from organization to organization.

Okay, let me rephrase the question. I have a choice of an ABA certificate program offered at a four year university (I already have a B A in another discipline) or the George Washington University Masters program in paralegal. If I were to choose the latter program would I be eliminating job opportunities? Thank you.

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Lynn Gale in Manhattan Beach, California

78 months ago

Paul in Petal, Mississippi said: I would like to know if a Masters Degree in Paralegal from a non ABA approved university is the better route over ABA approved Bachelor's program. I hold Bachelors and Masters degrees in Business Admin. Paralegal in Gaithersburg responded with reference to George Washington University's Masters program, however I can not find any information as to whether or not GWU is ABA approved.

Secondly, what are opinions about male paralegals. I am interested in the legal profession and believe I would enjoy the aspects of paralegal work (research etc.) without the demands of going through 3-4 years of Law School.

Expert Advice Needed.

Which program did you choose? I am stuck between UC Irvine certificate or the Masters in Paralegal offered at Geroge Washington Unversity. I have a B A in another field.

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Lynn Gale in Manhattan Beach, California

78 months ago

legal eagle in Silver Spring, Maryland said: Paralegals with master's degrees earn the highest salaries of all.

Paralegals with bachelor's degrees plus post-bacc certificates earn the next highest salaries.

These stats come from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics ( www.bls.gov ).

No employer will turn away a good applicant with a high GPA, a bachelor's degree, and a post-bacc certificate from a good school just because the certificate comes from a program is not ABA-approved -- especially if the certificate is from an accredited university.

So you are suggesting if you have a choice, to get the Masters instead of an ABA approved certificate (already have a Bachelor's Degree) if you have a choice? Then, the only foreseable problem is that some say the GW University Master's in Paralegal consists of 6 week long crash courses. Do you know anyone or anything about the program, if it is true that the level of acceleration is difficult for someone who is also working while attending the program online? thank you for your advise.

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paralegal in Gaithersburg, Maryland

78 months ago

You would absolutely not be eliminating job opporutnities.

GW has an excellent program, it is one of the most selective programs in the country, and students are being hired out of the classrooms there. The first cohort to graduate is 100% employed in paralegal positions at major law firms, government agencies, and internaitonal financial institutions.

You couldn't do better than GW.

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paralegal in Gaithersburg, Maryland

78 months ago

GW!

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paralegal in Gaithersburg, Maryland

78 months ago

It is very rigorous and requires dedication, commitment, and discipline. That's why it is so selective. It is definitely not for everyone.

GW requires a GPA of 3.0 or higher, two excellent references, and a well-written statement of purpose. It is an excellent program with excellent professors and excellent students. Once the first few graduates hit the streets, no one will have any doubt about its legitimacy.

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Lynn Gale in Manhattan Beach, California

78 months ago

Displaced Legal Professional in Denver, Colorado said: Correction to my comment: I had no prior legal experience but two courses in business law in college.

Thanks for all the helpful info. You say one thing, and another person advises the other route. I think for me it comes down to the crash courses in the masters program not so appealing. I hear what you say about how the certificate is all that I need at this point. My problem, however, is how to make up for lack of experience, since as an older adult I will not have the years of experience to catch up. I'll just have to make a decision. There will be a day, though, when the Master's degree will reign supreme.

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