Selecting a Curriculum
Just as paralegal education programs vary in length, they also vary in the kinds of course offered. A paralegal education should include core legal courses and a variety of specialty courses. The institution should also offer the opportunity to pursue general education or other useful courses.
Core Legal Courses
Every paralegal education institution offers a core set of legal courses. These offerings usually include an introductory course in paralegalism or introduction to law and a legal research class. Many programs require a separate course in legal ethics (discussed in detail in Chapter 5). Look for a program that requires at least these courses and carefully compare the content of the courses across institutions.
Legal Specialty Courses
Most programs offer a selection of legal specialty courses. The specific courses may vary depending on the availability of instructors, the fluctuating demands of the legal market, the area of the country, and other factors. At a minimum, the program should offer legal specialty courses in real property, wills and probate, contract law, business law, criminal law, and family law. Other desirable legal specialty courses are bankruptcy, employment law, criminal procedure, civil procedure, and alternative dispute resolution.
Courses Unless you have a prior postsecondary degree, a program that focuses only on paralegal education may not provide you with the breadth of education necessary to be successful in this demanding field. A paralegal must have a variety of skills that are developed and nurtured through the study of other disciplines. Look for an institution that requires exposure to philosophy (especially logic and critical thinking), language, history, literature, and composition. The most effective paralegals are well-rounded individuals who are able to relate their experiences in the law to a broader social and intellectual context.
Other Useful Courses
Aside from the thinking and communication skills required of a paralegal, you may want to consider a program that allows you to develop other skills. Most legal employers use computers and require their employees to do the same. The use of computers is far beyond word processing in a busy law office. Computer applications are used for maintaining calendars, billing, and managing case information. Some schools offer specific courses in these kinds of computer applications.
Talk to practicing paralegals about their day-to-day duties. Many paralegal students are surprised to find out that a portion of their job duties includes typing from transcription. Again, some schools offer courses on this subject. Other useful courses might include a course in medical terminology and records, basic accounting or bookkeeping courses, and business communication. Your course selection will depend on your abilities and your target job. Try to select a paralegal education program that offers the opportunity to develop as many job useful skills as possible.