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Become a Paralegal in California

The old song says “It Never Rains in Southern California,” but when it comes to employment for with people with paralegal skills, it rains opportunity throughout the state! From the sunny Southern California coast on up to the north and inland, the state employed 28,500 paralegals as of May 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). And, that doesn’t even include other areas of business where paralegal skills are increasingly in demand.

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*Whether you’re looking to earn an undergraduate degree in preparation for the Certified Paralegal Exam, or ready to advance your career with a master's degree in legal studies, accredited online programs make it easier than ever to get the education you need:

The annual mean wage for a paralegal in the state was $58,570 in 2012, but a paralegal working only part time can still earn approximately $32,000 per year. The profession is a demanding yet rewarding one, and paralegals who work long hours in certain firms can make as much as $80,000 to $90,000. “Thars gold in them thar hills,” didn’t just apply to the gold rush in the 1800s: California is still a the land of opportunity.

Paralegal Certification

There is no regulated paralegal certification in California. However, in 2000 Assembly Bill 1761 established qualifications for paralegals, and anyone who represents himself or herself as a paralegal must meet one of the listed qualifications, in addition to receiving eight mandatory hours of continuing education every two years. The rules for paralegals are outlined in Business and Professions Code 6450.

Where to Earn Your Paralegal Certificate or Degree in California

Paralegal Certificates

  • California State University East Bay

    Legal professionals in the San Francisco Bay area have high regard for California State University’s Paralegal Certificate Program. The 15-week program is designed to fulfill California’s requirements for paralegals, not only for initial employment, but also for mandatory continuing legal education. Students may take courses at the school’s Hayward, Concord or Oakland campuses, and may take some classes online. The university assists graduates in their search for employment before and following graduation.

    • Estimated Program Cost*: $6,900 (as of 2013; Includes all computer lab fees and WestLaw access)
    • Prerequisites: 80 quarter units or 53 semester units of college credit
    • ABA Approved: yes
    • Format: On campus or hybrid online/on-campus
  • California State University, Los Angeles College of Extended Studies

    The Paralegal Studies Certificate Program offered by California State University Los Angeles’ College of Extended Studies and International Programs is a post-baccalaureate certificate geared toward individuals who already have a college degree. It takes an average of five academic quarters to complete this program, and courses are scheduled on weekday evenings to accommodate working students. Students can pursue a general legal track or specialty tracks including litigation, corporate practice or legal technology. Courses are taught by legal professionals, attorneys, paralegals or paralegal supervisors.

    • Estimated Program Cost: $4,800 (as of 2013; fees and textbooks not included)
    • Prerequisites: Associate degree in any field from an accredited institution or completion of the equivalent of the lower division, general education units of a bachelor’s degree program (58 quarter units or 44 semester units of college courses)
    • ABA Approved: Yes
    • Format: On-campus

    Sample required courses:

    • Role of Paralegal
    • Legal Research
    • Civil Procedure
    • Law Office Technology
    • Corporate Law
    • Securities Regulation

Paralegal Associate Degrees

  • American River College

    American River College in Sacramento is a public two-year institution that offers an Associate of Arts in legal assisting. The program takes a minimum of two years to complete and its taught by paralegals, legal professionals, attorneys and judges. This course of study complies with the minimum educational preparation required for paralegals by the California Business and Professions Code, and the credits that students earn are transferable to many four-year institutions.

    • Estimated Program Cost: $2,898 for residents; $16,002 for non-residents (based on fall 2013 per credit hour tuition)
    • Prerequisites: The program is open to anyone who is 18 years of age or older and capable of benefiting from the education that is offered
    • ABA Approved: Yes
    • Format: On campus or hybrid online/on-campus

    Sample required courses:

    • Introduction to Law and the American Legal System
    • Civil Procedure and Litigation
    • Torts and Personal Injury
    • Legal Writing
    • Law Office Management
  • College of the Canyons

    Located in Santa Clarita, a few miles northwest of Los Angeles, the College of the Canyons is a public two-year community college. Its Associate of Arts in paralegal studies educates students in both practical law and legal theory. Students receive training in procedural law with an emphasis on the paralegal’s role, learn investigative, legal research and interview skills and complete internships.

    • Estimated Program Cost: $2,806 for residents; $13,725 for non-residents (based on fall 2013 per credit hour tuition)
    • Requirements: The program is open to high school graduates and anyone over 18 who can profit from instruction
    • ABA Approved: Yes
    • Format: On campus

    Sample required courses

    • Legal research and computerized legal research
    • Family law
    • Contract Law
    • Tort Law
    • Legal Ethics

Paralegal Bachelor’s Degrees

  • University of La Verne

    The University of La Verne is a four-year private college that was founded in 1891. Their Bachelor of Science in legal studies program prepares students to be effective communicators, have a solid knowledge of the law, understand legal technology, think analytically and understand the practical applications of what they have learned. Legal studies classes are geared for working individuals and each class meets one evening a week.

    • Estimated Program Cost: $72,960 (based on 2013-2014 per credit hour tuition for an accelerated program with 128 semester hours; fees not included)
    • Prerequisites: High School transcript, including four years of English, three years of social science and two years of science (one of which must be a lab); applicants must also have passed or surpassed Algebra 2. Applicants age 25 and above are evaluated by age, number of college-level semester hours completed, cumulative college GPA, work experience and the degree program being pursued.
    • ABA Approved: Yes
    • Format: On-campus
  • John F. Kennedy University

    Located in Pleasant Hill, John F. Kennedy University is a four-year university that offers a Bachelor of Arts degree completion program in legal studies in conjunction with a paralegal certificate. Practicing attorneys comprise the faculty, and students benefit from their professors’ real-world experience. The school emphasizes effective written and oral communication along with developing students’ analytical skills. Students must complete a total of 180 quarter units (including prerequisites) to graduate.

    • Estimated Program Cost: $83,700 (based on 2013-2014 per credit hour tuition if all 180 credits are taken at John F. Kennedy University)
    • Requirements: An associate degree or at least 54 quarter units of college credit.
    • ABA Approved: Yes
    • Format: On-campus

Additional Paralegal Educational Programs

  • Cerritos Community College

    Norwalk, CA

    Degrees Offered: Associate of Arts, Certificate

  • Coastline Community College

    Fountain Valley, CA

    Degrees Offered: Associate Degree; Certificate

  • Cuyamaca College

    El Cajon, CA

    Degree Offered: Associate in Science

  • DeAnza College

    Cupertino, CA

    Degrees Offered: Associate of Arts; Certificate of Achievement-Advanced

  • El Camino College

    Torrance, CA

    Degrees Offered: Associate in Science, Certificate of Achievement

  • Los Angeles City College

    Los Angeles, CA

    Degree Offered: Associate in Arts

  • Mount San Antonio College

    Walnut, CA

    Degree Offered: Associate Degree

  • MTI College

    Sacramento, CA

    Degree Offered: Associate Degree

  • National University

    Los Angeles, CA

    Woodland Hills, CA

    Degrees Offered: Associate of Science; Bachelor of Science; four Paralegal Specialist certificates.

  • Pasadena City College

    Pasadena, CA

    Degrees Offered: Associate Degree, Certificate of Achievement

  • San Francisco State University – College of Extended Learning

    San Francisco, CA

    Degree Offered: Certificate

  • Santa Ana College

    Santa Ana, CA

    Degrees Offered: Associate Degree; Certificate

  • University of California, Irvine Extension

    Irvine, CA

    Degree Offered: Certificate

  • University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA Extension)

    Los Angeles, CA

    Degree Offered: Post-Baccalaureate Certificate

  • University of California, Riverside Extension

    Riverside, CA

    Degree Offered: Certificate

  • University of California, San Diego

    La Jolla, CA

    Degree Offered: Certificate

  • University of California, Santa Barbara Extension

    Santa Barbara, CA

    Degree Offered: Certificate

  • University of San Diego

    San Diego, CA

    Degrees Offered: Post-Baccalaureate or Post-Associate Certificate

  • West Los Angeles College

    Culver City, CA

    Degrees Offered: Associate in Arts; Certificate

  • West Valley College

    Saratoga, CA

    Degrees Offered: Associate in Science, Post-Associate Certificate

Professional Organizations

  • The Orange County Paralegal Association (OCPA) is associated with the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and is dedicated to furthering the careers of paralegal professionals, while adhering to the highest degree of ethics and professionalism. They provide scholarships and at least one enrollment certificate each year.
  • The California Association of Legal Document Assistants (CALDA) promotes and encourages high standards of ethical and professional conduct, as well as offers its members educational opportunities, professional alliance, member forum exchange, a website business listing and attorney-approved printed materials.
  • The Los Angeles Paralegal Association (LAPA) offers networking opportunities, continuing education programs and opportunities for pro bono work for paralegals and others in the legal community. A member of NALA, it builds and maintains relationships with bar associations, other paralegal associations and businesses that serve the legal community. Paralegal students are encouraged to take advantage of this association’s programs.
  • The San Francisco Paralegal Association (SFPA) is a member of the California Alliance of Paralegal Associations (CAPA). It is proactive in promoting the high standards of the profession and providing networking and continuing education. To these ends they hold two major networking events each year and host practice sections in various specialty fields such as real estate, intellectual property, litigation and trusts and estates.
  • The Fresno Paralegal Association (FPA) sponsors professional activities and offers continuing education for paralegals, while promoting the high standards of the paralegal profession and educating the community.
  • The Sacramento Valley Paralegal Association (SVPA) offers education and information for paralegals. It also works to foster and promote the standards of the paralegal profession, as well as to increase attorney and public awareness of paralegals’ role.
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