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What Is a Paralegal Certificate?

Published on: Jan 20, 2024

What Is a Paralegal Certificate?

Current and aspiring paralegals have several options for gaining job-related knowledge that can help them land a job as a legal professional or advance in their careers. One of these options is obtaining a paralegal certificate. This credential, earned after the completion of a months-long paralegal studies certificate program, could be the most inexpensive and quickest way to gain knowledge and develop skills that can help you in your paralegal career.

In this article, you will learn more about what a paralegal certificate is and how it differs from other paralegal educational programs and credentials. You will also discover the advantages that completing your paralegal certificate program can have for your career. Finally, you will learn tips about finding the correct paralegal certificate program to fit your needs.

Understanding Paralegal Certificates

A paralegal certificate is not the same as a paralegal certification. Certification refers to the process whereby a professional organization like the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) recognizes individuals who have demonstrated competency in the paralegal field as evidenced by completing certain educational and experiential requirements. Individuals who complete NALA certification and pass the certified paralegal exam, become certified paralegals.

Nor is a paralegal certificate the same as an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in paralegal or legal studies. For an associate’s degree in paralegal studies (APS), a student could expect to complete 60 semester hours of coursework. If that student desired a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies, they would need to complete approximately 120 semester hours of coursework to earn a bachelor’s paralegal degree.  It should also be mentioned that the costs of these two programs differ significantly.

For instance, according to the U.S. News and World Report, the total cost of an Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies will start around $8,100. In comparison, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) indicates the average cost for a bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies is around $9,375 per academic year.

One of the primary benefits of a paralegal certificate program is that it can be completed quickly, sometimes in as little as four to five months allowing for individuals to get started in their legal career that much faster. Furthermore, for those who already have a degree in a different field, a paralegal certificate is a great option for them since they will only have to take a few classes to transition into becoming a certified paralegal.

Advantages of a Paralegal Certificate in Career Progression

You may wonder whether a paralegal certificate has any value. Perhaps you are considering applying for a paralegal position, and the job description does not require a paralegal certificate. Or perhaps you are already in a legal assistant or similar position and are looking to take on new responsibilities, but you feel you already have a working knowledge of the legal system. 

Even in these circumstances, a paralegal certificate can prove valuable for you in the present and in the future because:

A Certificate Can Give You Legal Knowledge and Skill

As noted above, some of the coursework you must complete as part of a paralegal certificate introduces you to specific areas of the law, such as criminal law, immigration law, and domestic law. You can also learn skills such as conducting legal research and drafting commonly used legal documents through your certificate program. 

Although these skills and knowledge could be learned on the job, learning them through a paralegal certificate program can provide you with the opportunity to develop these skills in a controlled learning environment. You can receive more individualized attention and feedback on your work that you might not get in a busy law firm, legal department, public administration position, or government agency.

Earning a Certificate Can Increase Your Marketability and Job Prospects

Every employer is different, and each law office, government agency, or other paralegal employer will emphasize education, certification, and experience differently. One employer might hire a paralegal candidate with considerable experience but no formal education. Another might be satisfied hiring a paralegal with minimal experience but who possesses a paralegal studies certificate.

Most employers value candidates with higher education and college degrees. But even though many employers might feel that a job candidate with a college degree is more “job-ready” than one without a degree, a majority of employers still look favorably on candidates with job certificates like a paralegal certificate. According to The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), hiring candidates with a certification increases the talent pool, increases the number of candidates with job-specific skills, and increases candidate diversity. 

Opportunities for Career Growth and Advancement

Finally, obtaining your paralegal certificate can be an effective part of a professional development plan. A paralegal certificate program’s curriculum will provide you with knowledge and skills you can use to address complex or challenging issues at your workplace. For example, your paralegal certificate program could give you a more in-depth understanding of family law issues, enabling you to assist your coworkers and employer better without needing to go to law school

Factors to Consider When Researching Paralegal Certificate Programs

Once you have decided that a paralegal certificate program makes sense to you, the next decision that must be made is settling on a specific paralegal certificate program. You should not rush this important decision. Instead, you want to fully explore at least seven or more programs. Consider a program’s features, including:

Accreditation and Program Quality 

Not all paralegal certificate programs are of the same quality or reputation. An accredited program is one that has met certain educational standards for quality established by the accrediting or approving body, such as the American Bar Association (ABA). Some employers may place particular importance on whether your paralegal certificate program is approved by the ABA or otherwise accredited.

Curriculum and Course Offerings

Take time to consider the curriculum that a particular certificate program will cover and ensure the coursework aligns with your interests and career goals. For example, if you have an interest in criminal law, look for a paralegal certificate program that will offer you courses in criminal justice, legal writing, and related legal fields. If you want to assist lawyers in litigation, your paralegal program of choice should include legal specialty courses, such as civil procedure, that can help prepare you for this area of the law.

Flexibility and Delivery Options

Next, consider your preferred learning style and how you want to experience the certificate program. Paralegal certificate programs are offered in a traditional classroom setting, exclusively online, or in a hybrid format, with some in-person classes supplemented with live or asynchronous online instruction. You can also find programs that are full-time, such as those at UC Berkeley, as well as those that are part-time and designed to accommodate working professionals, such as through the Villanova University graduate certificate program.  

Duration and Time Commitment

You can expect your paralegal certificate to take you anywhere from four months to two years to complete, depending on your program and its curriculum. Do not believe that a shorter program is inferior to one that is lengthier. Instead, consider the time it will take you to complete the program along with other factors like the curriculum and whether it is a part-time or full-time program.

You should also consider how many hours of classroom instruction your program will take to complete and the amount of time you will need to study outside of class. A general rule of thumb is that for every hour you spend in class, you will need to spend approximately two to three hours studying the material outside of class.

Internship or Practical Experience Opportunities

If you are just starting your journey as a paralegal, looking for a program that has internships or similar placement opportunities can give you valuable, real-world experience. Not only can these experiences give you the opportunity to practice what you are learning in your program, but they can also allow you to network with individuals in the legal industry.

Faculty Expertise and Industry Connections

In looking at a paralegal certificate program, you should pay attention to the qualifications of the instructors who will be teaching you. Their credentials can impact the quality of the program and instruction you receive, and their connections to others in the legal industry can prove invaluable if you are attempting to find your first job as a paralegal.

Cost and Financial Considerations

Finally, you should consider the cost of the various paralegal certificate programs you are considering. The cost of completing a certificate program ranges from around $4,500 to $41,000, depending on the school. You should also take into account the cost of books and materials, which can add to the total cost of your program. 

Some paralegal certificate programs may offer financial aid and tuition payment plans that can help make obtaining a paralegal certificate more affordable. Additionally, groups like NALA and the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) offer scholarships to certain qualified students that might be able to offset the cost of your paralegal certificate.

How to Research and Compare Paralegal Certificate Programs

Knowing that you should research a paralegal certificate program before enrolling in it is not the same as knowing where to look for this information. There are several resources you can consult to learn more about paralegal certificate programs, including:

  • The school’s or program’s webpage, which can tell you more about the curriculum, accreditation, and costs

  • Visiting the school or attending a virtual open houses and asking questions of admissions staff and teachers

  • Speaking with students who are currently attending or who have graduated from the school or program about their experiences and opinions

  • Reaching out to prospective employers to inquire which programs they’ve hired graduates from to hear about their experiences with graduates in the workforce

  • Consulting rankings and databases such as the U.S. News and World Report and the American Bar Association’s list of ABA-approved paralegal certificate programs

  • Spending time browsing the data we’ve collected about paralegal certificate programs here on our website

It is best to consult multiple sources as you investigate paralegal certificate programs rather than just relying on one or two sources of information. Doing so can help give you a more comprehensive picture of a program’s strengths and weaknesses and suitability for your needs.

Closing thoughts

Whether you are just starting your career as a paralegal or have been working in the legal industry for years and want to gain more skills and experience, a paralegal certificate program is a great step to take. Inexpensive when compared to associate’s and bachelor’s programs that can cost substantially more, you can complete a certificate program in a matter of a few months and gain a greater understanding of the law and legal tasks.

Getting started with your paralegal certificate program begins with using available resources to find an appropriate program for your needs. Once you have found a program suitable for your needs, goals, finances, and schedule, make the most of opportunities to gain practical experience and network to maximize the value of your certificate program.


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  2. https://nala.org/

  3. https://nala.org/certification/eligibility-requirements/

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  5. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/how-many-credits-to-get-a-bachelors-degree 

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  7. https://www.hbs.edu/managing-the-future-of-work/Documents/dismissed-by-degrees.pdf

  8. https://www.usnews.com/higher-education/online-education/articles/2017-05-25/what-employers-think-of-your-online-graduate-certificate

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  14. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/networking-101-top-three-people-every-recent-college-graduate-horn 

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About the Authors

Written by:

Kevin Salzman, Esq.

Kevin Salzman is the elected county prosecutor for Ford County, Kansas. Prior to taking office in 2017, he worked for six years as an assistant county attorney across southwest Kansas, prosecuting crimes ranging from traffic offenses to first-degree murder cases. Kevin got started in legal content writing in 2014 and enjoys the opportunities it affords to explore new and changing areas of the law. He believes solid content writing helps people understand the law and how it can help them overcome the challenges they face. He is a 2010 graduate of St. Louis University School of Law.

Kevin Salzman portrait

Kevin Salzman, Esq.

Contributing Author

Education: St. Louis University School of Law, J.D.

Knowledge: Criminal Prosecution

Reviewed 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