AAfPE and ABA
One task assigned to me in my new position of Secretary of AAfPE is updating the list of our member institutions – over 330 of them-in terms of which have and which do not have ABA approved programs. Since there are only 260 ABA approved programs, it is clear that many AAfPE members are not ABA approved. Yet, my experience has been that AAfPE programs are programs every bit as good as the ABA programs. Certainly it is impossible to distinguish the many Program Directors and faculty members attending and presenting at AAfPE conferences as being from either an ABA approved or a non-ABA approved program.
Many ardent discussions occur on the internet as to whether ABA approval is beneficial to programs as a marketing device or to graduates as a tool for gaining employment. I suspect that the answer depends on more on geography than anything else. This is not to say that there should not be some firm criteria for assessing a good paralegal program. Indeed, I argue in many posts here for the need for uniform educational standards. However, it is not at all clear that the ABA should be the organization making these determinations, at least not in isolation. AAfPE does have representatives on ABA committees and does provide members for site review committees, but has little to no control over final decisions by ABA regarding its conception of the proper way to educate paralegals. Within AAfPE (American Association for Paralegal Education) there is some ongoing discussion about whether the ABA is the correct institution to be “approving” paralegal programs: does it make sense to have lawyers rather than educators determining what makes a good educational program, even if the topic being taught it law?
The fact of the matter is that ABA can often be out of step with advances in education. For example, the Masters Degree program at George Washington University – one of our countries most prestigious institutions (and I think at last count the most expensive to attend) cannot obtain ABA approval because it relies on online education. Yet, it would seem that if online education was in itself bad, GWU would know about it. Many other institutions meet all of the ABA requirements for approval but do not seek it because it is a tremendous drain on resources, both in terms of money and personnel. The costs of obtaining ABA approval are substantial and must be either passed on to students or deducted from other parts of the budget.
I’ve suggested in past posts that perhaps we need for all interested groups to chose a representative to a committee to establish a model act regarding paralegal regulation – ABA, NFPA, NALA, NALS, AAfPE. It may be there should even be a seat at the table for a group representing “independent” paralegals. It seems that the same may be true for paralegal education.
In any case for those persons seeking a paralegal program, I continue to suggest that they start with AAfPE and see if the program they are interested in is in its membership directory.