It is generally agreed that a high quality paralegal education is the best tool to help you prepare for entry into the paralegal profession, and that continuing legal education is necessary to maintain your professional qualifications throughout your career.
What constitutes an appropriate level of education to qualify to become a paralegal is a subject of considerable debate. There are many practicing paralegals who have received no specific paralegal education but moved to a paralegal position from another job in the legal industry and/or were trained on the job. This is still a viable alternative, but as our profession matures it is becoming more important to obtain the best qualifications you can within the constraints of your available time and money.
WSPA generally recommends that a prospective paralegal have at least a two year post secondary degree from an accredited college or university, and a four year degree is strongly recommended. In addition to a basic degree, we recommend you have at least 24 semester credit hours, or equivalent, in specific paralegal classes — whether those credits are obtained as part of your regular degree program or in an additional special paralegal 'certificate' program. At the time of this writing, there are currently five paralegal programs in Washington State that have been approved by the American Bar Association.
WSPA supports the goals of the American Association for Paralegal Education, who notes that In order to be a successful paralegal, an individual should possess not only a common core of legal knowledge, but also must have acquired vital critical thinking, organizational, research, writing, oral communication, and interpersonal skills.
There is a more in-depth discussion of the desirable educational background for a paralegal on the NFPA web site at http://www.paralegals.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=116.
NFPA also offers information on, how to choose a paralegal program at http://www.paralegals.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=117as well as a number of resources to assist you in evaluation your options.
For a list of specific paralegal programs at colleges and universities in Washington State, please see: Washington Paralegal Programs
Here is a link to short video from Wisconsin's Technical Colleges that might give you a flavor of what paralegal education is all about: Paralegal Education video. Also, Edmonds Community College spotlights their successful paralegal program in a short video found here.
Additionally, WSPA recommends that prospective paralegal students educate themselves about how to properly evaluate a Paralegal program they are considering by visiting the AAfPE web site. To learn more about the goals and mission of AAfPE, please visit the web site of the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE)
Continuing Legal Education
The practice of law in any capacity is constantly changing. Like an attorney, a paralegal must keep up with the latest changes in the law, in technology, and in legal practice in order to maintain and increase the quality of service you provide to your employer and its clients.
WSPA believes that Continuing Legal Education is extremely important -- not only for individual paralegals but also for the profession as a whole. Consequently, once a WSPA member has qualified as a voting member (see Membership for qualifications), the member must earn at least 10 continuing legal education credits and report them to WSPA in order to continue as a voting member. The details of this requirement can be found in the WSPA Bylaws and CLE Guidelines.
There are a number of sources for continuing legal education. CLE seminars offered by the various bar associations are an excellent source of information, but may be somewhat expensive for paralegals if their firms do not pick up some or all of the cost.
Fortunately, some of the attorney bar associations offer seminars targeted especially to paralegals and other legal support personnel. There are also private educational firms which periodically offer seminars on a variety of legal topics. Your employer may offer in house training from time to time. And, of course, WSPA offers continuing education to its members. Some of these seminars will be lunch time brown bag seminars, sometimes longer evening events. And twice yearly we offer a full day conference with at least two separate seminar tracks. Check out our Calendar for selected upcoming seminars and links to other offerings.
In order to be counted toward your CLE requirement for voting membership, any seminar you take must be approved as meeting WSPA's standards for continuing legal education. Any activity which has qualified for CLE credit with the Washington State Bar Association or the Washington Limited Practice Board it is automatically approved by WSPA. Any other activities must be approved by WSPA. It is your responsibility to make sure that the activities you are reporting have been approved by WSPA and that you submit the proper documentation. Requirements for approval are contained in the CLE Guidelines.
In addition to attendance at a seminar, you can obtain CLE credit for certain other activities such as speaking at a WSPA event, or attending a WSPA Board meeting. See the CLE Guidelines for details.
For more information about WSPA's CLE requirements, contact
CLE Accreditation Chair (E-Mail).