OK, I really stepped in it this time. Usually try to keep my head down and below the radar, but apparently calling someone out like I did yesterday, about Above the Law's less-than-flattering advice article to a paralegal, doesn't qualify as "keeping my head down". (A ten-fold jump in daily hits to my site after being mentioned on ATL is what really caught my eye.)
I previously talked about this subject, but wanted to expand a little on my thoughts and experiences on Paralegal Education.
My background is a B.A. degree with no formal Paralegal certification (not required in my state), and roughly 15 years of practical experience on the job, starting at the bottom and working my way up, learning as I went.
Looking through various articles on the subject, one piece of advice I can agree with is to get a Bachelor's degree. Anything along the lines of History, Education, Library Studies, Philosophy or related subjects in the Liberal Arts category will do. The key skill to learn is how to do thorough research and comb through data to highlight relevant information.
Once you have that degree, it is also recommended that you attend an ABA Accredited Paralegal Studies program. The ABA accreditation is important, because they only approve about 1 in 5 of the overall number of Paralegal training programs. Your best bet is to look at major local colleges or universities, especially those associated with an accredited Law School. Many community colleges also have good programs.
Stay away from non-college "training program" institutes. Most of them are simply paper factories that take your money and don't teach any important skills. These are typically privately-run businesses out to maximize profit and minimize cost.
See Part 1 and Part 2 of an article on Paralegal schools, and this article about searching for a job straight out of school, all from my good friend over at Paralegal Hell, for more on this subject.
While the ABA does accredit some Paralegal programs, what hurts our industry the most is the lack of nationwide standards for education and qualification of Paralegals. Lawyers at least have the Bar, and the ABA accreditation of law schools is a fairly big deal. Unfortunately, that doesn't carry over quite so well into our profession. We need to keep agitating through our local Paralegal Associations for more and better standards in order to improve the overall quality and reputation of the profession.