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The Ultimate Guide to Choosing an ABA-Approved Paralegal Program

Published on: May 9, 2024

The primary goal of the American Bar Association (ABA) when it comes to paralegal education programs is to approve programs that adhere to ABA Guidelines. The ABA aims to promote high-quality education and training for paralegals, as well as the development of educational standards. To achieve this objective, the Standing Committee on Paralegals and Approval Commission conducts an extensive review and on-site evaluation of these programs. Their guidance and direction have created exceptional paralegal education courses that improve the knowledge and understanding of individuals who help lawyers provide legal services in numerous capacities.

In this guide, we will discuss what makes a paralegal program ABA-approved, review the top ABA-approved paralegal programs in the country, and help you understand other factors that can affect the ABA-approved paralegal program you choose.

Understanding How Paralegal Programs Receive ABA Approval

The ABA process of approving paralegal programs involves a comprehensive investigation of self-evaluation reports submitted by the programs. On-site evaluations are also conducted to ensure these programs comply with the ABA Guidelines. After completing the evaluation process, a program is approved for seven years.

The Steps Involved

The ABA approval process begins when a paralegal education program seeks ABA approval. From there:

  • The program will submit an initial application for approval through the electronic reporting system.

  • An Approval Process Manager and an additional consultant will review the report. A detailed explanation will be prepared and provided to the program director if further information is needed.

  • A team consisting of a representative of the Standing Committee or Approval Commission, an experienced paralegal, and the director of an ABA-approved paralegal education program will schedule and conduct an on-site evaluation over one to two days.

  • The report will be submitted to the Approval Commission for review and action after the visit. The Approval Commission will provide recommendations to the Standing Committee on Paralegals for further assessment. If the program is found to comply with the guidelines, the Standing Committee will provide its recommendations to the ABA’s policy-making body for final approval action.

Benefits of Attending an ABA-Approved Program

Obtaining approval from the American Bar Association is regarded as one of the most distinguished credentials for paralegal education programs. To earn ABA approval, the paralegal curriculum needs to assist students in developing professional competence. Additionally, the school’s instructional methodology must ensure active engagement between students and faculty, provide valuable and timely feedback, and offer practical assignments catering to real-world skills development.

The endorsement from the American Bar Association is commonly considered a symbol of excellence in paralegal education. ABA-approved schools are known to have skilled instructors with practical experience and provide a complete and thorough curriculum that teaches students the necessary skills to thrive as paralegals.

Moreover, ABA-approved schools offer career assistance, giving graduates a head start in securing desirable positions. In addition, because many employers value ABA-approved graduates for their competence and legal knowledge, it helps graduates be a step ahead of their competition.

Start Your Research: Recommended On-Campus ABA-Approved Programs

Students have considerable options when pursuing a paralegal education, including in-person and online learning. While both options have pros and cons, the benefits of in-person learning often include further networking opportunities, hands-on learning opportunities, access to physical and legal libraries, and in-person career services.

While there are a variety of ABA-approved programs in the United States, some of the more popular on-campus programs offering in-person instruction include the following:

Phoenix College

Phoenix, AZ

Phoenix College's Paralegal Studies program is the only program in northern Arizona approved by the American Bar Association. The curriculum includes courses such as:

  • Civil procedures

  • Legal writing

  • Legal research

  • Interviewing clients and witnesses

  • Contracts

  • Business organizations

  • Litigation technologies

Students can choose between two programs: the Associate in Applied Science (AAS) and a Certificate of Completion (CCL) in Paralegal Studies. The college also offers internship opportunities and an on-campus courtroom facility that helps paralegals learn skills to support lawyers during trials.

For further information about the college and the programs involved, students can check out the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Cuyamaca College

El Cajon, CA

Cuyamaca College's Paralegal Studies program is approved by the American Bar Association and prepares students to handle legal tasks required of paralegals in private law firms, government agencies, and corporations.

Cuyamaca created its paralegal curriculum with help from an advisory committee of leaders such as judges, lawyers, and practicing paralegals. The same body reviews these programs to ensure they meet current legal trends and needs. 

When students complete the program and obtain a Paralegal Studies Degree, they can apply their analytical skills, research, and college-level writing abilities to assist lawyers and conduct themselves ethically and professionally in legal conflict scenarios.

Bay Path University

Longmeadow, Massachusetts

Bay Path University offers a Paralegal Studies degree program that provides graduates with the necessary skills to pursue successful careers in law. The program emphasizes communication, leadership, technology, and ethics, providing students with a solid undergraduate education. By challenging students with a rigorous theory and practical application curriculum, the program prepares them for professional opportunities in various legal settings, including legal service agencies, law firms, courts, corporations, financial institutions, and government agencies and offices.

Upon completion of the school’s paralegal studies degree program, students will have met the requirements for the ABA-approved Certificate of Advanced Paralegal Studies and will be able to:

  • Understand, produce, analyze, evaluate, and present appropriate solutions to legal challenges

  • Apply their legal research skills to real-world problems

  • Complete legal writing tasks

  • Understand substantive issues and legal procedures

Online/Hybrid ABA-Approved Programs

In recent years, online and hybrid learning has become increasingly popular among college and graduate students. This option offers numerous benefits, including flexibility, especially for working professionals and non-traditional students, lower tuition and boarding costs, and more opportunities for accessible learning. Various ABA-approved programs offer options for students to consider.

San Francisco State University

San Francisco State University’s Paralegal Studies online certificate program was founded in 1975 in San Francisco, California. The program, approved by the American Bar Association, provides a rigorous curriculum, synchronous online courses, access to experienced legal faculty, and a vast alumni community to prepare students for successful careers as paralegals. The program also offers a thriving professional network to help students build valuable connections in the legal field.

Lee College

Lee College has designed its academic programs to provide a clear and well-defined pathway to success inside and outside the classroom. These pathways offer a variety of connections that lead from education to career, and many of them lead to the completion of certificates and associate degrees that can help students find employment right away.

Regarding paralegal programs, Lee College offers ABA-approved programs, including a certificate program and an Associate of Applied Science Degree. Students who complete these programs will be able to produce litigation and transactional documents, demonstrate knowledge of the court system and the litigation process, and understand the principles of ethical practice. The paralegal studies program is offered online, and courses marked with LGLA will only be offered online.

Herzing University

Herzing University offers an Associate of Science/ Applied Science in Legal Studies Degree, a 62-credit undergraduate program that prepares students to start their legal careers as paralegals. This online program offers students fundamental knowledge and skills in legal research, writing, ethics and professionalism, torts, contract law, and more.  The program also allows students to take career-focused classes, offering them a flexible schedule, virtual support and technical services, and lifelong support. Due to Herzing University's dedication to going above and beyond for its students, the overall student satisfaction rating, according to a recent Herzing Graduate Survey, is over 90%.

Reviewing Program Types, Curriculum and Specialization Offerings in ABA-Approved Programs

Various institutions offer ABA-approved programs, including two-year community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and business and proprietary schools.

Associate Degree Programs

Community colleges and some four-year degree-granting schools usually offer associate degree programs that last two years. However, while most community colleges have an open-door policy regarding admissions, many paralegal education programs have become more selective with their admissions for entry. This is because paralegal programs require substantial study and outside-class assignments.

An associate degree program will generally consist of a combination of general education, legal specialty courses, and other electives. While the legal specialty courses are selected by administrators and specific faculty in consultation with legal community members, these classes will often include courses in legal research and writing, as well as an introduction to law, contracts, torts, business, estate planning, corporate law, criminal law, litigation, family law, real estate, and legal technology.

Bachelor Degree Programs

Numerous colleges and universities now offer four-year bachelor’s degree programs that enable students to obtain paralegal studies degrees. The program typically includes general education, legal specialty courses, and electives. These programs encompass general and specialty courses, with the former being similar to those offered in an associate degree program. The specialty courses are usually taken in a student’s final two years. They are more advanced and specialized, allowing students to focus on one or more legal fields and helping them to develop skills and experience in those chosen fields.

Certificate Program

A certificate program is a type of legal specialty training that provides education in a specific legal area. Generally, these programs require students to have completed at least some college, but some will only accept college graduates. Classes may be offered full-time during the day or part-time, and the program's length can range from a few months up to two years. Some paralegal certificate programs offer a general curriculum that includes legal specialty training, while others focus solely on legal specialty concentrations such as estate planning, litigation, real estate, and business law.

Considering Tuition Cost and Navigating Financial Aid

Although the American Bar Association does not provide financial assistance to individuals interested in enrolling in paralegal education programs, students may be able to obtain financial aid through the schools they attend. Inquiries about financial aid, such as scholarships, loans, and grants, should be directed to the institution's program director or financial aid office a student plans to attend. In addition, students should be able to obtain this information easily, as deadlines can prevent them from getting the money and aid they need.

As a result, students should ask the financial aid office as soon as possible about their available resources. These students should also fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and look into work-study, federal grants, and other federal loan options.

Evaluating Program Quality and Fit

Paralegal education programs approved by the American Bar Association have taken various steps to provide a consistent and high standard of learning in the paralegal field. To earn ABA approval, these programs must meet rigorous standards and maintain their ABA-approved status through regular re-approval processes.

When assessing these programs, the ABA usually considers the following factors:

  • The courses offered

  • Faculty qualifications and experience

  • Instructional materials and support

  • Student-to-teacher rations

  • Specific library resources

  • The location of classes and resources

  • Counseling and job placement services

  • Adequate classroom facilities

However, while ABA-approved paralegal programs provide students with various benefits, they will still need to determine whether the program aligns with their career goals, learning preferences, and professional studies aspirations before enrolling in these programs.  That is why prospective students should also consider the following factors when determining whether a paralegal program is the right fit for them:

  • The types of courses offered

  • Defined program goals

  • Student services

  • Professional associations of which the school is a member

  • Hiring statistics

  • Costs

  • Living arrangements

Get to Know Career Services and Post-Graduation Support Offerings

Paralegals play a crucial role in improving the efficiency, economy, and accessibility of legal services for both the public and legal organizations. This has led to an increased demand for paralegals in various law-related settings. While private law firms remain the largest employers of paralegals, good job opportunities are also available in other markets, including the public sector. However, to pursue these opportunities, when students enroll in a paralegal education program, they should seek the assistance of the school’s career services officer and program director in securing employment opportunities.

Career services officers and program directors often contact members of the surrounding legal and business communities. They can provide students with information regarding current job openings within the community and help students prepare application forms and resumes.

Professional organizations are also key to helping paralegal students with networking, career growth, and similar aspects. For instance, professional paralegal organizations, such as NALA, The Paralegal Association, provide essential services such as education, training, and certification for their members.

Determining Which ABA-Approved Paralegal Program Is Right for You

When a paralegal program has ABA approval, it demonstrates its high standards and consistency, which can significantly impact a student’s legal studies journey and career prospects. However, before students choose just any ABA-approved program to enroll in, it is important that students conduct thorough research of their options, visit campuses, attend information sessions, and connect with admissions counselors for personalized advice.

If you want to enroll in an ABA-approved paralegal program, do not wait any longer to start your search. Instead, start contacting institutions today to obtain further information, schedule meetings with counselors to explore your educational path, and look into your financial aid options.

About the Authors

Written by:

Kasia Nelson, Esq.

Kasia Nelson is a licensed attorney and skilled legal content writer with years of experience. With a background in corporate immigration law, she is well-versed in the intricacies of producing legally accurate and well-researched work. 


  • Michigan State University, B.S.

  • Western Michigan University – Cooley Law School, J.D.

Law Licensures

  • Michigan

Kasia Nelson

Kasia Nelson, Esq.


Education: Western Michigan University – Cooley Law School, J.D.

Knowledge: Corporate Immigration Law

Reviewed by:

Ryan P. Duffy, Esq.

Ryan P. Duffy is an attorney licensed to practice law in New Jersey, North Carolina, and South Carolina. His practice focuses primarily on Estate Planning, Personal Injury, and Business law. 

Law Licensures

  • New Jersey

  • Pennsylvania (inactive)

  • South Carolina

  • North Carolina

Ryan Duffy

Ryan P. Duffy, Esq.

Editorial Lead

Education: Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, J.D.

Knowledge: Estate Planning