With the paralegal profession emerging as the fastest growing in the legal sector, it’s so important to choose the right course – one that is bespoke, fit for purpose and robust.
There are many providers who see a potential market for offering courses, and it is becoming a bit of a minefield, so here are a few tips about what you should be aware of before you take the step to pay for any paralegal course:
Are the paralegal courses expressed to be specifically paralegal, or are they general legal courses?
This is important because if they are described to be “paralegal courses” in the marketing, but the name of the course does not have the term “paralegal” in it, then they probably have not been developed specifically for paralegal professionals. It’s most likely that they relate to other general legal studies or are geared towards another profession.
Once you have ascertained that the courses on offer are specifically aimed at qualifying as a paralegal, you should ascertain whether they are accredited by an official qualification regulator, such as the Office of Qualifications and Examinations (Ofqual). This is the government body that accredits national qualifications in England and has statutory powers under various Acts of Parliament. Because of the strength of regulation behind the qualifications that they recognise, and the reputation of these regulators, qualifications that hold an Ofqual brand are accepted worldwide. Once you establish this, you know that an awarding organisation that has gained recognition by Ofqual is offering qualifications that meet a very high standard and are “fit for purpose”. You also know that the people who hold an Ofqual certificate have all attained the same level of skills, knowledge and understanding for the same qualification. In other words, they can be relied upon.
Watch out for training providers that claim to be approved by another body.
Any organisation can say that they approve a course, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the courses are robust or fit for purpose. It could be that approval is expressed because money has changed hands for that approval. Undertake due diligence on any training provider by contacting them and asking questions. Ensure that if a course has been approved by another organisation, the organisation itself is well-established, long-standing and not just a fly-by-night, short-lived unregulated body. Some organisations make claims of being “The only such body in England and Wales or the UK” or “The longest established in the UK”. Such claims are easily made, but a bit of research and a few questions may establish a different picture.
Take your time and be absolutely sure before you part with any fees.
Phone or email the training provider and ask relevant questions. Check how long it has taken them to respond to you and how confident you feel after their response. You should not only be asking about what body accredits the courses, but also what is included in the course fee cost. Are course materials/workbooks included or paid for separately? Does the fee include assignment/exam fees? If not, then how much extra will you have to pay? It is difficult to assess how much on average a paralegal qualification should cost, since most providers are private training companies and will use their own fee structure. Organisations charging outrageous fees (for example, in the thousands) may ring alarm bells if they do not appear to be accredited by a recognised body. However, alarm bells may also be ringing if the cost of the course appears to be too low.
There are different ways to study: online/distance learning/home study or class attendance.
You may need to assess which is the best method for you. For example, not everyone can attend a class because of family/job commitments, so distance learning/home study may be just the right fit. Others may not be able to manage their time effectively on their own, and therefore class attendance is what is required. Some courses will be assessed by examination, others by continuous assessment. Questions should also be raised about the kind of support and advice you can obtain if it is not a class attendance course.
These days, to secure professional status each year, some professional membership bodies insist that their members keep up with the law through taking Continuing Professional Development (CPD) accredited courses. The CPD Certification Service was established in 1996 as the leading independent CPD accreditation institution operating across industry sectors to complement the CPD policies of professional institutions and academic bodies. If this applies to you, you should ensure that those providers offering CPD have the CPD badge of approval by checking the listings on the CPD website.
Training as a paralegal can lead to a rewarding and fulfilling career. Paralegals are becoming the go-to legal service providers for most organisations. Some paralegals obviously work with solicitors, but mostly, these days, prospective employers of paralegals come from outside the conventional legal sector. Most companies have an element of legality to what they do, and therefore require the services of paralegals to fill that role. It is more cost-effective to employ a paralegal than a solicitor. Furthermore, the prospect of being able to offer legal advice and assistance to the consumer as a licensed paralegal practitioner offers a very real and worthwhile career option for qualified paralegal professionals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit membership body and the only paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual. Through its training arm – NALP Training, trading as National Paralegal College – accredited, recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.