Paralegal certification programs prepare students to work as legal assistants providing administrative and research skills, often by working directly with attorneys to prepare for meetings and trials. Those who complete paralegal certification programs are then able to sit for the necessary examination to work in this field.
The best paralegal certificate programs offer more specializations, learning methods, career services, and planning resources. They also often offer job placement services in competitive markets such as California and New York.
Best Paralegal Certification Programs of 2021
- Best Overall: California State University, LA
- Best Online Program: Hofstra University
- Most Affordable: Des Moines Area Community College
- Best for Student Support: American National University
- Best for Job Placement: Monroe County Community College
- Best Hybrid Program: Widener University
- Best for Specializations: Villanova University
Best Overall : California State University, LA
We chose California State University, Los Angeles, for its versatile program offerings, competitive pricing, and its flexible learning methods.
Excellent access to internship opportunities
Job training assistance
Flexible study schedule
Somewhat less student support
The paralegal certificates program at California State University, LA, has been in place since 1978. The curriculum is competitive, ABA-approved, and designed to meet the needs of a legal assistant working in California. This program is affordably priced at $5,400, and paid training may be available to some students through the American Job Center. Students also have access to alumni services and job training after they leave the program.
Another core benefit of this program is that students can complete it within three semesters by taking evening courses Monday through Thursday. Students complete 18 units of education including classes such as Legal Research and Writing, Transactional Law, Administrative Law, and Civil Litigation. Students can also complete an optional paralegal internship which may lead to job opportunities in law firms, legal departments, corporations, or government agencies.
California State University’s paralegal program's curriculum focuses on problem-solving, practice skill development, a strong framework for knowledge, skills, and ethical obligations in the industry, and critical thinking skills as applicable in legal positions. Prospective students may wish to view the school's Paralegal Studies Certificate Program webinar to see exactly what they'll learn.
Best Online Program : Hofstra University
The Hofstra University paralegal studies program offers a fast path towards obtaining certification in five months while offering a range of courses to choose from that are available online during the day and at night.
Complete the program in 5 months
Courses are online as either day or evening classes
Less overall student support
As one of the best online paralegal programs, the Hofstra University program has much to offer students already working in the field. Students must have 60 college credits or an associate degree to complete this path. Many students attend school and work while completing this program given the day and evening class options, all online.
The program is known for its small class sizes. Even though this is an online program, there is ample student support, including from attorney instructors. This ABA-approved program has a strong focus on New York law. Courses include concentrations in areas such as family law, civil litigation, information technology for paralegals, and immigration law.
Unlike other programs with short completion times, the Hofstra University paralegal program offers a much lower cost point at $6,495. It doesn't offer as much support from staff, however, and has fewer specialization options, but students who want a fully online program may appreciate this program.
Most Affordable : Des Moines Area Community College
Des Moines Area Community College offers an affordable learning path towards obtaining a paralegal certificate priced significantly lower than other programs.
Flexible start time
Low 2.0 GPA requirement
Some virtual courses available in real-time
Internship placement provided
Must complete an internship to earn a certificate
This ABA-approved program is available to students with a bachelor's degree, an Associate of Science, or an Associate in Arts degree. This program aims to prepare students with practical instruction delivered by attorneys experienced in their field. Students can choose between several specializations and then complete an internship under the supervision of an attorney.
To enroll, students need to submit official transcripts showing completion of their previous degree. They must have successfully completed the following Des Moines Area Community College courses: ENG 105 with a C or higher, ENG 106, and SPC 101. To graduate, students must maintain a 2.0 GPA and complete at least 12 semester credit hours of legal specialty coursework.
Des Moines Area Community College’s courses include topics such as Torts and Personal Injury, Environmental Law, Probate Procedure, and Business Organization law. In total, the program requires 27 credit hours. The total cost of this 15-month program is $4,698, making it quite affordable for the features it offers.
Best for Student Support : American National University
The paralegal certification program from American National University offers a flexible program with a range of innovative course delivery methods. It also offers ample support from faculty.
Career professionals for instructors
Ample career services provided
Personal attention from staff
Day and evening classes
Higher cost than other programs
The certificate program for paralegal studies at American National University is one of the most versatile. This ABA-approved program aims to support both experienced professionals looking for a career change as well as students with a previous associate's or bachelor's degree. It's taught mostly by industry professionals, including attorneys. Most importantly, those professionals are available for career services and support throughout the student's education. That personal attention can prove valuable to those entering the field.
American National University offers online research tool access and an academic program created by industry professionals. The program offers flexibility with evening and weekend classes. It also has a range of alumni benefits, including career services for ongoing support even after that initial position.
The American National University's program is more expensive at $12,160, which may be due to the well-trained staff, online access to education, and short eight-month completion time.
Best for Job Placement : Monroe County Community College
This well-established program helps students find paralegal positions in area law firms and government agencies. Some of its students work for larger legal employers in the area.
Excellent community connections for positions
A focus on technology use for research
Evening and weekend study for flexibility
Classes are only held evenings and weekends
Not available online; must attend downtown campus
Part of the State University of New York, the paralegal studies program at Monroe Community College offers a program with placement opportunities for qualified students in private law firms, government agencies, corporations, and insurance companies. The school boasts that its graduates have gone on to work in careers in such prominent law firms as Bond Schoeneck & King, Sega & Sciortino, and Woods Oviatt Gilman, among others.
This program is approved by the ABA and was developed in a partnership with the Monroe County Bar Association and Paralegal Association of Rochester. Students will also spend time learning from associates from these organizations.
Much of Monroe Community College’s studies focus on New York law. Students take classes in procedural applications of law as well as computer- and tech-focused programs. There's a strong teamwork framework provided. This program requires at least 18 credit hours of liberal arts courses taken at the MCC Downtown Campus. Online courses are not available currently.
The courses are available on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings allowing students ample opportunity to work and learn at the same time. This college's program spans 15 months and costs $6,468 to complete.
Best Hybrid Program : Widener University
Widener University's paralegal certificate program is a part of the Widener University Delaware Law School. This comprehensive program may be completed both online and in-person providing flexibility for students.
Learn at your own pace
Complete in one summer or academic year
Complete study in several concentrations
The cost may be prohibitive
Must have earned 60 college credits prior
The paralegal certification program from Widener University is one of the more flexible options in higher education. Students can complete the program in one 14-week summer course or complete it across two semesters of traditional academic education. Students can start at the beginning of any of the three semesters.
The hybrid format allows for in-person and online learning (some courses are only available online). These features, along with the self-paced learning design, may be some of the reasons for the program's cost of $41,400.
To complete Widener University’s program, students must take and pass 24 credits in general paralegal study. This includes at least 10 semester credits, which is the same as a legal specialty course. Areas of concentration include corporate law, criminal law, health law, estate administration law, and litigation.
Widener University’s ABA-approved paralegal program enables bachelor's degree students to study at their own pace, taking as few or as many courses as desired. While the cost of the program is high, it offers a range of benefits for those seeking flexibility.
Best for Specializations : Villanova University
Villanova University offers a competitively-priced ABA-approved program with some of the best access to specializations with a wide breadth of options to select from for most students.
Flexible full- and part-time classes
Full curriculum with numerous specializations
Career services and planning
Fewer tech-based programs for paralegals
Somewhat limited program space
The ABA-approved program from Villanova University offers one of the most comprehensive of course selections. This includes studies in areas such as ethics, family law, legal writing and research, paralegal office coordination, and real estate law.
Students can study part-time online in the evenings or take a full-time day program. Both programs allow students to wrap up their education in as little as five months. The program requires 15 courses taken over a semester.
The paralegal certificate program provides ample career support and planning services, including an alumni network comprised of more than 72 law firms and over 260 active members. This access, along with the comprehensiveness of the program, may be why it costs a bit more than some other programs to complete at $8,250.
California State University, LA, offers a comprehensive competitively priced program with much to offer students and is our top choice. Its online format and quick, three-semester completion time let students move quickly through the program while continuing to work. A dedicated staff of lawyer instructors and a strong support system after graduation also helps students with job placement.
California State University, LA, students learn key skills, including developing skills in technology necessary for the modern paralegal. Ample specializations, job training, and financial assistance options also help to make this program a solid choice for today's students.
Compare the Best Paralegal Certification Programs
|California State University, LA
|1||Online and in-person||$5,400||12–15 months|
|Des Moines Area Community College
|American National University
Best for Student Support
|1||Hybrid and in-person||$12,160||8 months|
|Monroe County Community College
Best for Job Placement
Best Hybrid Program
Best for Specializations
|1||Online, hybrid, and in-person||$8,250||5–8 months|
How to Choose the Best Paralegal Certification Program
One of the first steps in choosing a paralegal program is to look for one with a flexible schedule that lets you work while taking classes. Based on our choices, it also shouldn't be difficult to find a program that is both affordable and offers concentrations that align with your career goals.
Finally, be sure the program offers additional career services, such as job training and alumni networking, to help you transition into or advance your career.
Paralegal vs. Legal Assistant: What’s the Difference?
Paralegals and legal assistants do the same type of work, and the two terms can be used interchangeably. The American Bar Association itself does not differentiate between the two terms, but the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers some clarification. Paralegals are recognized for having passed the NALA exam, whereas those working as legal assistants may not have done so.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Do You Learn in a Paralegal Certification Program?
Paralegal training programs teach the basics of various areas of law, including concentrations in areas as far-reaching as real estate, business law, civil litigation, and personal injury, among others. Students learn how to research and write for a legal audience while also learning how to use paralegal technology and research tools. Most programs also teach students administrative and critical skills to allow them to develop contracts, interview individuals, and complete client inquiries.
Is a Paralegal Certificate Worth Getting?
For those wishing to work as a paralegal, it's necessary to complete a certification program and sit for the exam. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the job outlook from 2019 to 2029 for paralegals is expected to grow by 10%, much faster than average, with the need for over 35,000 new professionals.
How Much Do Paralegal Certification Programs Cost?
The cost of completing a certificate program ranges from around $4,500 to $41,000, depending on the school selected. Widener University's program, for example, has a much higher price point, promising students they can earn their certification in a single summer program spanning just 14 weeks.
More affordable programs may take a bit longer, may offer fewer specializations, or may not provide the same benefits of job placement. Some schools simply cost more because they are private or smaller.
How Much Money Do Paralegals Make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the 2020 median pay for a paralegal and legal assistant was $52,920 per year or $25.44 per hour. Professionals work in a range of environments, including law firms, government agencies, and corporate legal departments.
After looking at over 20 paralegal certification programs, we developed this list of top paralegal certification programs based on specific qualifications including affordability, learning format, and support services. We also considered factors related to career services, instructors (whether they are attorneys), and if the programs are ABA-approved. We also chose only certification programs, not those that involve earning a degree.