By Anne Evenson
What are the requirements, and how does the program at UT Austin address them?
You may have heard that law firms and other businesses only hire paralegals who have concluded a course of study through a paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). However, an ABA-approved paralegal program is not necessarily more distinguished or respected than comparable programs without the endorsement of the ABA.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “there are more than 1,000 institutions that offer formal training programs for paralegals, but just 270 of those programs are approved by the ABA.”
How do these educational programs meet the specific approval guidelines to obtain an ABA Certification? There are eight requirements, verified by the ABA’s Standing Committee on Paralegals and Approval Commission through extensive self-evaluation reports and on-site assessments of the paralegal program.
The Eight Requirements to Obtain ABA Approval
1. Have adequate financial resources to maintain a paralegal education program.
2. Ensure equality in their paralegal program and adhere to all discrimination law.
3. Manage a program that qualifies its graduates to be employed in paralegal careers.
4. Pay a $2,500 approval application fee, a $1,500 annual fee and all travel costs for the ABA evaluation team’s site visits.
5. Employ a full-time faculty or administration member responsible for the direction of the paralegal program.
6. Hire program directors and instructors with the appropriate education, knowledge and experience.
7. Assemble an advisory committee that includes practicing lawyers and paralegals, both from the public and private sector, as well as faculty and school administrators and one or more members of the general public.
8. Be at the post-secondary level of instruction and include at least 60 hours of general education and legal specialty courses.
How Does UT Austin Address These Requirements?
While the ABA’s principal objective to “foster high-quality paralegal education and training” is commendable, an ABA-approved program is not the only path to a successful career for an aspiring paralegal. UT Austin’s Center for Professional Education (CPE) makes the Paralegal Certificate Program available to professionals seeking entry into this exciting field without high tuition costs and a lengthy time investment. The Paralegal Certificate Program maintains high educational standards and consistency in much the same way that ABA-approved programs do.
1. Adequate financial resources. As a self-funded unit within The University of Texas at Austin, CPE provides all the financial support necessary to operate a robust paralegal program.
2. Equal opportunity. As part of UT Austin and in accordance with federal and state laws, CPE does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, disability, citizenship and veteran status.
3. Qualifying its graduates. Our program has been approved by UT Austin and meets the Texas state requirements that regulate paralegal training.
4. No payments to the American Bar Association. UT Austin does not pay these costs and does not have to account for covering them when determining the price of the course.
5. Full-time administration member responsible. Our paralegal program is managed by a full-time employee who is also an attorney.
6. Directors and instructors with the appropriate knowledge. All instructors for the program are experienced attorneys or paralegals who teach students legal skills and competencies using their own experience and insight.
7. Advisory committee. The leadership board for the program includes practicing lawyers and paralegals and members of the UT Austin community, including the senior director for admissions at the UT School of Law.
8. No requirement for 60 hours of post-secondary general education. Our program takes five months to complete, with all focus on paralegal skills and the knowledge needed to be successful in the career.
Students in the Paralegal Certificate Program will learn current legal processes, best practices in research and analysis, and discover essential topics in substantive law such as torts, contracts and civil procedures. Students have full access to the UT Tarlton Law Library and research tools including Westlaw and LexisNexis. The program curriculum also includes resume drafting, interview tactics and social media strategies for job searches. Graduates of the program are granted access to networking and mentorship opportunities through a one-year membership with the Capital Area Paralegal Association.
We find that most employers seeking to hire paralegals place more value on the reputation of The University of Texas at Austin than ABA approval when considering potential applicants. Any individual who has learned and developed practical paralegal skills through the UT CPE Paralegal Certificate Program has the necessary edge to obtain the best paralegal position at any organization.
Anne Evenson is a marketing specialist and copy editor working in Austin, Texas. She holds a BFA in Fibers and Printmaking from the Kansas City Art Institute.
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