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The paralegal profession is changing. Some states are licensing and registering paralegals, and have established mandatory education or other criteria for paralegals. Other states are considering their example, and may make similar requirements. Case law has already has set standards for the type of paralegal work that can be recovered by the winning party in attorney fee applications.

There are many non-lawyers working in law offices who want the title of legal assistant or paralegal. Some enroll in what are commonly called “weekend wonders” – an abbreviated paralegal education program that puts money in the pockets of the school but does little to prepare its graduates for an ever-increasingly competitive job market.

Let’s think about this for a minute. Why did you pick that particular school? Who recommended it? Did you have to take out a loan to pay for the entire program before you could take a class? What if, after you start the classes, you decide that you really are not interested in becoming a paralegal? You are still on the hook for the entire loan even when you leave the school. If you believe a program is the best, be sure you are committed to becoming a member of this profession before taking out that loan.

Paralegals and lawyers are trained differently. Paralegals learn the theory of the law, but also the nuts and bolts of how things are done in a law office. Not all lawyers who teach paralegals understand that difference.

When I was in paralegal school, the majority of my professors were lawyers and outstanding teachers. They did not teach us in the same manner they were trained in law school, but as paralegals. If an instructor has neither worked with a paralegal nor understands the basics you are expected to know when you start your first job, this should be a red flag.

Do what any good paralegal would do. Perform your own due diligence by researching the program and its curriculum. The ABA’s Standing Committee on Paralegals (http://tinyurl.com/cc7n43p) has set recognized standards for quality paralegal education. It also provides a directory of ABA-approved paralegal programs.  (http://tinyurl.com/lhgezwm.) It is worth your time to research this recognized standard and compare it to the curriculum of whatever schools you consider. If nothing else, it may prevent you from making a costly mistake.

If you are not sure whether your paralegal program is up to snuff, contact the paralegals in your state. Call the local, state, and national paralegal associations, and ask for a recommendation or their opinion of the program of your choice. Yes, they will likely be biased, but they may also have good reason to be.

Talk to more than one person in the association. Ask hard questions. But most importantly, find out what kind of education and credentials are expected by the attorneys and law firms in your state. After all, you want to be marketable and find a job after graduation. It only makes sense to swim with the current, not against it.

Regardless of what path you choose, I wish you all the best. When one of us looks good, I truly believe it makes us all look good. Please avoid putting anyone else down to build yourself up. Not only is it unprofessional, it is not kind. One never regrets taking the high road. I suspect that you will, like me, have at least one person who will help you learn the ropes when you start your career. When you have the opportunity – and you will – please pay it forward.  -CCE