How to Spot a Paralegal Program Scam
Paralegal program scams have been on the rise. An unsuspecting potential student enrolls in a paralegal program to get a paralegal certificate and then spends years wondering why they can’t get a job as a paralegal. Here are some helpful tips to spot a paralegal program scam and make sure you are getting the education needed to have a successful paralegal career.
Back in the 1990s, if you were looking for a paralegal certificate program to attend, your options were limited. There were no advertisements with promises to “start your exciting career as a paralegal in just 6 weeks!” Today, those advertisements are all over the internet. Times have changed. People want things faster. But sometimes faster is not always better.
Short-Term Paralegal Programs Enter the Scene
A Short-Term Paralegal Program is a paralegal certificate program that does not provide sufficient course hours in substantive areas of law that are hurting the paralegal profession. Many of these companies will “white label” their certificates to appear as if the certificate is from the local college.
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) published a Position Statement Regarding Short-Term Paralegal Programs and stated that these programs “have the potential of harming the reputation of paralegals who have attended traditional paralegal programs.”
The American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) also takes issue with these types of programs in their Policy Statement Regarding Short-Term Programs, stating “the reputation of the colleges and universities that offer these short-term programs or that offer campus space to these programs may become tarnished as do their legitimate programs.”
In its Position Statement, AAfPE agrees with NFPA’s position on how these short-term programs impact the paralegal profession, stating “these short-term programs harm those who employ paralegals because employers who hire graduates of short-term programs may assume that prospective employees from other programs are similarly ill-prepared to cope with the demands of the paralegal profession.”
If you are considering getting a paralegal certificate, here are a few ways you can spot a paralegal program scam.
1. Do they offer a drop-down list of which college you want to be printed on your paralegal certificate?
If the paralegal program offers a flat fee price and a list of colleges that you can receive your certificate from, it’s probably a scam. This is considered a “white label” certificate. You’ve probably landed on some of those sites if you’ve done a search for “paralegal certificate programs near me.” The page you land gives you a list of 3 or 4 colleges that have paralegal programs near you. You select a college from the drop-down menu and pay $1,500 to enroll. The reason you are able to select which college you want to be named on the paralegal certificate is that one company is reselling course materials to all of those colleges (white label).
2. Are they offering a paralegal certificate for less than $3,000?
It might be tempting to go with a paralegal certificate program that costs far less than the others in your area. But consider this: If all of the local, reputable paralegal programs have program costs that range between $3,800 – $5,800, how is this other school able to offer the same program for $1,595? You know the saying: you get what you pay for.
The only way those paralegal programs are able to give you a paralegal certificate for half the cost of a typical college is because they are not providing you with enough substantive law credit hours. The average cost per credit hour at a 4-year public university is $325. So, ask yourself, how is this same 4-year college offering a paralegal certificate for $1,595? Is that the equivalent of about 5 credit hours for their paralegal program?
3. Would you be able to sit for a national certification exam after receiving that paralegal certificate?
Even if you don’t plan to become a certified paralegal (different than a paralegal certificate), one method you can use to evaluate the program you are looking at is to ask if you would be able to sit for the NALA, NFPA or NALS exam. For example, if you want to sit for NALA’s Certified Paralegal exam, your paralegal certificate program would need to be:
(a) approved by the American Bar Association; or
(b) an associate degree program; or
(c) a post-baccalaureate certificate program in paralegal studies; or
(d) a bachelor’s degree program in paralegal studies; or
(e) a program that consists of a minimum of 60 semester hours (or equivalent quarter hours) of which at least 15 semester hours (or equivalent quarter hours) are substantive legal courses.
4. Do local paralegal managers and legal administrators hire students from that paralegal program?
The problem is that there are paralegal programs that take advantage of someone who does not know that the certificate they just received is not worth the paper it is written on. The graduates will struggle to get their foot in the door and think it is based on their lack of experience or a resume that needs tweaking. When in reality, they are not getting hired as a paralegal because the local law firm managers know the reputable paralegal programs and they know the ones that “white label” paralegal programs.
5. Can they answer the following questions to your satisfaction?
- Is this program taught by the school’s own professors or is the certificate program just using the school’s space?
- How long has the paralegal certificate program been around?
- Does the program require at least 18 semester hours of substantive paralegal courses?
- How many people have graduated from the program in the last five years?
- Can you refer me to any of your recent graduates who can give a first-hand account of their experience in the program?
- Upon graduation, will I be able to meet the minimum education requirements to sit for the national certification exam of NFPA or NALA?
- What is the program’s placement rate after graduation? Specifically, how many graduates are working as paralegals or in some other similar capacity in the legal industry? In other words, does your employment after graduation include the graduates who took a position as a receptionist at a dental office because they spent years trying to land a paralegal position?
If the school’s answers to those questions are not satisfactory, then consider looking at other programs for your paralegal certificate. Do some more due diligence and use social media groups (like LinkedIn groups for paralegals and Facebook groups) to ask other paralegals what they know about the paralegal program you are considering before enrolling in it.
One final note, The Paralegal Boot Camp does not have a paralegal certificate program. Our courses are for paralegal continuing education after a paralegal has already obtained a paralegal degree or paralegal certificate from an accredited institution and then wants to obtain additional paralegal skills to advance their career.
About the Author
Ann Pearson is the Founder of the Paralegal Boot Camp, specializing in training for paralegals that focuses on the important paralegal skills not taught in most certificate programs. Our courses bridge the gap between what someone learns in a certificate program with what a paralegal actually does at work every day. Paralegal Boot Camp courses are part of many law firms’ paralegal professional development programs.
Ann started her career as a litigation paralegal and then was a manager of paralegals for many years for an AmLaw 100 firm prior to starting The Paralegal Boot Camp in 2010.
When she’s not working, you can usually find Ann somewhere near an ocean – either scuba diving, boating, cleaning up a beach, or volunteering to help save sea turtles.