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Position Statements

AAfPE Comment to the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education

 

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As directed by the membership during the 2013 Annual Business Meeting, the board drafted, approved, and disseminated a comment reflecting AAfPE's position on the education and training of paralegals as non-lawyer legal service providers and limited licensed legal technicians.

 

 

AAfPE Core Competencies for Paralegal Programs

 

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In order to be a successful paralegal, an individual should possess not only a common core of legal knowledge, but also must have acquired vital critical thinking, organizational, research, writing, oral communication, and interpersonal skills. All paralegal education programs, regardless of the specialty areas they choose to emphasize, should provide an integrated set of core courses that develop the following competencies.


 

AAfPE Statement on Diversity and Inclusion

  

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The American Association for Paralegal Education (“AAfPE”) respects and values the unique attributes, characteristics and perspectives of all persons.  We believe that our strength lies in the diversity among our talented members. We consider diversity and inclusion essential to our ability to effectively accomplish our mission.  Therefore, it is our aim that our members, partners, and key stakeholders reflect and embrace these core values.

Diversity embodies all those differences that make people unique and includes people of different race, ethnicities, culture, sexual orientation, gender, religion, age, personal style, appearance, and physical ability, as well as people of diverse opinions, perspectives, lifestyles, ideas, and thinking.

Inclusion fosters full participation and helps our organization leverage the diversity of our members, engaging them and encouraging collaboration.  AAfPE promotes the open exchange of ideas and an organization that is free of cultural barriers.

AAfPE recognizes that organizations work best when people with different backgrounds and viewpoints are willing to work together toward a common goal.  Therefore, AAfPE is committed to providing an environment of fairness and equitable treatment of everyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, creed, age, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, or class.

AAfPE will strive to effectively serve its members from all backgrounds, to encourage the professional growth of all members, and to embrace the diversity of our membership. To that end, AAfPE will continue to identify, and look for ways to reduce or eliminate, barriers to under-represented groups and will continue to look for ways to expand access to leadership opportunities within the organization in an effort to further strengthen our diversity. AAfPE, by and through its Officers, Directors, and Committee leaders, will encourage full and equal participation by qualified members of under-represented groups at all levels of the organization.

 

AAfPE Statement on Academic Quality

 

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The American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE), established in 1981, is an organization dedicated to promoting high standards for paralegal education. Educational institutions that are voting members of AAfPE have adopted this Statement of Academic Quality. 

Preamble

Paralegal education is a unique academic curriculum, composed of both substantive legal knowledge and professional skills that incorporates legal theory with an understanding of practical applications. This intellectually demanding course of study is derived from the responsibilities of paralegals as legal professionals.  It is the philosophy of this organization that a person is qualified as a paralegal with (1) an associate or baccalaureate degree or equivalent course work; and (2) a credential in paralegal education completed in any of the following types of educational programs: associate degree, baccalaureate degree (major, minor or concentration), certificate, or master’s degree. AAfPE recognizes these essential components of quality paralegal education programs:

Curriculum Development

Quality paralegal education programs monitor the responsibilities and competencies expected by employers on an on-going basis. They regularly incorporate this information into a well-designed curriculum with a logical sequence of courses that emphasize interactive learning (student-to-student and faculty-to-student) and assignments that teach practical job-related paralegal skills in conjunction with underlying theory.

Facilities

Quality paralegal education programs have a physical learning environment that provides: (1) access to legal research library facilities that include computer-based resources; (2) classrooms that provide opportunities for interaction among students and between students and the instructor and include the necessary equipment and technology to facilitate learning; (3) a convenient physical location for administration/support staff and the provision of student services; and (4) accessibility pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.

Faculty

The faculty of quality paralegal education programs consists of legal professionals and, where appropriate, other similarly qualified persons in good standing in their profession who (1) possess expertise and experience in their subject area; (2) have background working as or with paralegals; (3) can demonstrate teaching ability; (4) hold a graduate degree or possess exceptional expertise in the legal subject to be taught; and (5) are committed to the role of paralegals in the delivery of legal services. Evaluation is conducted on a frequent and regular basis to ensure that quality instruction is maintained and enhanced. Quality programs strive to achieve diversity in the composition of faculty. 

Marketing and Promotion

Quality paralegal education programs advertise in an ethical manner and in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. All representations in the following areas are factual as well as current and can be substantiated: (1) the job market, employment opportunity, compensation, and placement; (2) the knowledge and skills necessary to meet entry-level paralegal job qualifications; and (3) the transferability of course work to other educational institutions. Quality programs strive to achieve diversity in the composition of their student body.

 

Paralegal Instruction

Quality paralegal education programs maintain standards of excellence and include, either as separate classes or with the overall course of study, the following topics: ethics, substantive and procedural law, the American legal system, delivery of legal services, law offices and related environments, the paralegal profession, legal research and writing, law-related computer skills, legal interviewing and investigation, and areas of legal practice such as those described in AAfPE’s Core Competencies for Paralegal Programs; and offers an experiential learning component, such as an internship, practicum or clinical experience.

Program Director

Quality paralegal education programs provide adequate release time, funding for professional development opportunities, and administrative support for the program director to develop, monitor, and accomplish the goals and objectives of the program, as well as assess the program’s effectiveness in achieving these goals and objectives. The director is primarily responsible for the paralegal program. A program director is a legal professional or other similarly-qualified person appropriately credentialed and in good standing in his or her profession, with knowledge, involvement and understanding of the paralegal profession and paralegal education. 

Related Competencies

Quality paralegal education programs assist their students in acquiring these essential related competencies, primarily in general education: (1) critical thinking skills (analysis, judgment, research, and problem-solving); (2) communication skills (oral, written, non-verbal, and interpersonal); (3) computer skills; (4) computational skills; (5) understanding of ethics; and (6) organizational skills. Graduates also possess a basic understanding of American history, business, and political systems. 

Student Services

Quality paralegal education programs offer student services that include (1) academic counseling, (2) career information and placement assistance, and (3) information and/or opportunities for participation in such activities as honor societies, pro bono activities, professional and paralegal associations, and continuing legal education. 

Paralegal Definition

Paralegals perform substantive and procedural legal work as authorized by law, which work, in the absence of the paralegal, would be performed by an attorney. Paralegals have knowledge of the law gained through education, or education and work experience, which qualifies them to perform legal work. Paralegals adhere to recognized ethical standards and rules of professional responsibility.

 

 

AAfPE Policy Statement Regarding Short-term Programs

 

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AAfPE's membership includes hundreds of universities, colleges, and other institutions of higher learning throughout the United States and in Canada. Since 1981, AAfPE's member schools have trained thousands of paralegal students each year to help increase, improve, and support access to the legal system in their communities.

 

 

AAfPE Educational Standards for Paralegal Regulation Proposals

 

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AAfPE's membership includes hundreds of universities, colleges, and other institutions of higher learning throughout the United States and in Canada.  Since 1981, AAfPE's member schools have trained thousands of paralegal students each year to help increase, improve, and support access to the legal system in their communities. AAfPE acts as the national resource for paralegal education and has set minimum recommended educational standards for paralegal education programs to become institutional members. AAfPE believes that the paralegal profession requires training of sufficient length, sophistication, intensity, and quality to produce a functional entry-level paralegal.

Certain educational components should be required in any paralegal regulatory plan. AAfPE recommends that state legislatures, courts, and/or bar associations considering paralegal regulation should adopt or include the AAfPE educational minimum standards described below:

 

Formal Paralegal Education

It is the position of AAfPE that some form of formal paralegal education should be present as a meaningful requirement in any paralegal regulation plan. This formal paralegal education should be offered through a program specifically designed to provide paralegal education.

Minimum Length of Study

A person is qualified as a paralegal with (1) an associate or baccalaureate degree or equivalent course work and (2) a credential in paralegal education from a paralegal program associated with an educational institution accredited by a nationally recognized agency completed in any of the following types of educational programs: associate degree, baccalaureate degree (major or minor), certificate, or master’s degree.

A paralegal’s education shall include, either as separate courses or within the overall course of study, coursework in substantive and procedural law, the American legal system, law offices and related environments, the paralegal profession, legal research and writing, ethics, and areas of legal practice such as those described in AAfPE’s Core Competencies for Paralegal Programs.


The paralegal’s credential shall include no fewer than 18 semester credit hours of substantive paralegal classes and shall be from a paralegal education program that, at the time the paralegal credential is granted, is:

  1. An institutional member of the American Association for Paralegal Education; or
  2. A paralegal educational program approved by the American Bar Association; or
  3. A paralegal education program at the post-secondary (college) level that requires the student to have completed a minimum of sixty (60) semester hours (or the equivalent) of total study prior to graduation. A semester hour is equivalent to 15 classroom hours of at least 50 minutes in duration. The course offerings may be for credit or not for credit, but they should meet these minimum time periods.

Other Educational Institution Requirements

The educational institution should be accredited by a nationally-recognized accrediting agency. Additionally, the institution should meet the educational standards described in the AAfPE Statement of Academic Quality.

Minimum Educational Requirements Are Essential in Any Paralegal Regulation Plan

Paralegal education is a unique academic curriculum, composed of both substantive legal knowledge and professional skills, which incorporates legal theory with practical application. Any proposal for regulation of paralegals should contain provisions incorporating the level of paralegal education necessary to enable graduates to meet the responsibilities of paralegals as legal professionals.

In recent years there has been a proliferation of short-term entry-level paralegal training programs of very limited duration, some with as few as 125 clock hours (which is less than nine semester credit hours). These programs do a fundamental disservice to the legal profession by creating unrealistic expectations in both employers and students that a quality paralegal education has been delivered, when such is not the case. State regulatory bodies are urged to adopt the educational minimums defined in this document as a requisite element of any paralegal regulation plan.

For further information on the American Association for Paralegal Education, please contact info@aafpe.org, or call our national headquarters at (407) 774-7880 .

The AAfPE Board of Directors adopted this Position Statement

on February 24, 2001, at San Antonio, Texas.

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