ABA Accreditation?

Even on summer break there does not seem to be time to do all I’d like to do. I have begun again to scroll through LinkedIn discussion boards and find many articles or posts on which I hope to comment. Here’s the first.

The Paralegal Place has an article entitled, “The Importance of an ABA Accredited Paralegal School” that suggests that it is only worthwhile getting an degree or certificate from an ABA Accredited program. This is simply not the case. While I do not have the time for a full statement of why this is so, I did make this comment:

It is important that students investigate the quality of the program they are considering before enrolling and committing to the expenditure of thousands of dollars on a degree or certificate. However, there are many fine programs that are not ABA Accredited. ABA Accreditation itself costs schools thousands of dollars and hours of time that could be expended on student services if not devoted to the ABA. Some programs, while meeting most or even all of the ABA requirements, chose to put those funds into the program rather than into the ABA coffers. Note that there is no documented evidence for the often made claim that “most” law offices and legal departments only hire graduates of accredited programs. While this may true in some areas, it is far from true in many others.

Note also that the ABA Guidelines for Approval are designed by attorneys, not paralegals or paralegal educators. While I’ve been proud to be an attorney for over 35 years, it was not until I became a paralegal educator that I really understood the paralegal education process. The American Association for Paralegal Education’s mission statement is “Recognizing the need to increase and improve access to the legal system, the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) promotes quality paralegal education, develops educational standards and encourages professional growth, in order to prepare graduates to perform a significant role in the delivery of legal services.” Rather than run automatically to the ABA, prospective students should check the AAfPE website for assistance in Finding a Quality Program.

Our program at Ole Miss is not ABA Accredited as a result of a decision on how best to expend resources in an age when legislatures are cutting budgets, but an even better example is the George Washington University master’s degree program.

It should also be noted that the ABA does not accredit paralegal programs. This is done by regional accreditation boards. The ABA just “approves” paralegal programs. For more on this click here.

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  • This article is faulty for several reasons:

    1.) The ABA does NOT “accredit” paralegal programs, rather it merely “approves” those programs that 1) apply for ABA approval, and 2) meet the ABA guidelines. (See: http://www.americanbar.org/groups/paralegals/resources/general_approval_process_information.html)
    2.) The article conflates “approval” with “accreditation,” implying that lack of ABA approval will limit certain financial aid opportunities or the ability to transfer credits to another institution – these two things are related only to accreditation, not “approval”.
    3.) Paralegal programs may be accredited only by a nationally recognized accrediting agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education. (See: See US DOE’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs: http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/)

    Many institutions seek ABA approval of their paralegal education programs in order to enhance their reputation and marketability to students. There are some nationally recognized institutions that tout their paralegal degree or short-term certificate programs as being offered “in conjunction with” their ABA accredited law school. These programs are not necessarily ABA approved, and ABA accreditation of an institution’s law school has no bearing or legitimizing effect on its paralegal program.

    The author(s) of this article need a better understanding of the nomenclature of the paralegal profession. (See http://www.esrba.com/userfiles/october__2011_summation.pdf – article starts on pg. 9)

  • Patty Carson says:

    I think your response to this article is a bit suspect, to say the least. Those of us who have been trudging through this process have no issues with the above article.
    1. The ABA, by its wording and the power behind its organization (namely, attorneys), gives the impression that, “If you ain’t with us, you ain’t with us.”
    2. I have personally talked with seven schools and three certification programs that have buckled under this implied threat, and each one of them have used the ABA’s “seal of approval” as a means to suggest that their competitor(s) are “less than qualified.” With the exception of one community college, each coordinator/counselor -in their own way – informed me that the ABA:

    – Recognized “their” program as better than the “other” school
    – That for me to attend a school/program that was not ABA “credentialed (the exact quote of two of the schools)” would either be “unfortunate,” a “black mark on my resume,” and one actually said, “Why waste your time going there? We have the classes and we’ve got the ABA’s seal of approval.”
    – “Endorses” online AND certificate programs, which I read on their website.

    Now, clearly, these are not errors. These are blatant lies and fabrications in order to bring tuition into their programs, because:

    1. ABA does not “recognize” programs. This suggests to me that the schools/programs were “sought out” for their excellence. I checked the ABA website, called the schools back, and they backtracked their statement. Two days later, the word recognized was replaced with “approved.”
    2. I asked the supposed “ABA credentialed” schools for a link where I could go and verify their status with ABA. They both directed me to links that showed their accreditation to Educational Associations, not ABA. When I asked them about this, one of them told me that ABA would not have “APPROVED (NOW they use the word)” them had they not been accredited by an educational association. The other person said she’d get back to me. That was a week ago. I’m still waiting.
    3. Then, there’s the online and certificate programs. I called the ABA on this, after one of the certification counselors made all these promises (” You will pass the course, it’s that easy if you follow our step-by-step study plan, etc.). I got a return phone call from a very stuffy woman at the ABA. She told me they don’t consider online/distance courses that award certification without classroom attendance, though there were a few “blended” programs that have been approved.

    Here’s the really strange part. With exception of three of the programs, the rest are “ABA APPROVED.” The two that referred to themselves as credentialed and accredited? They are on the ABA approved list, and in my opinion, they were the biggest offenders of the group. Unfortunately, the idea of taking the time to check the claims is something most people are too lazy to do.

    I am very disappointed that paralegal schools, associations and organizations would even consider aligning themselves with ABA approval. It would be naive to think that such an alignment does the paralegal any good. It’s totally a feather in the cap of the institution eager to improve their position, and it ultimately assists the ABA in keeping their foot firmly planted on the neck of the paralegal.

    So, don’t be so quick to attack the article above. However conflated, it is generally understood that there is this idea that any school or program outside of the ABA’s approval is not worth looking into, and that’s just not true. I also believe that the ABA could take steps to correct this, but I think they recognize free press when they see it.

    Meanwhile, ABA remains an organization dominated by attorneys willing to recognize the capability and professionalism of the paralegal under certain conditions: “THEIRS.”

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