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My Opinion

Making the Grade Online?

Most paralegals still favor classroom setting over all-online programs.

By John J. McGurk

January/February 2007 Table of Contents


When it comes to paralegal education, most LAT readers give a thumbs-down to the online-only option, according to the latest My Opinion survey.

Asked if an all-online program can adequately prepare today’s paralegal students, 73.2 percent of respondents answered no and 26.8 percent answered yes. Only 9.8 percent of respondents have completed an all-online program.

Among those who consider online programs inadequate, 37.5 percent chose a lack of face-to-face interaction as the main drawback. Also receiving votes: no way to verify authenticity of students’ work (34.4 percent), no American Bar Association-approved all-online programs (18.8 percent), fewer opportunities to network (6.3 percent) and a lack of hands-on experience (3.1 percent).

“It’s my belief that nothing compares to sharing personal experience and knowledge,” said Joyce R. Kantor, a 10-year paralegal from Stamford, Conn. “That can be done most effectively in a classroom setting, not with an online course of study.”

Kantor’s sentiments were echoed by Natalie Walden, a 16-year paralegal and compliance specialist from Columbus, Ohio. “As both a working paralegal and an instructor at a local college, I believe interaction between the students and instructor brings a special dimension to the learning experience,” Walden said.

But for several respondents enrolled in online paralegal courses, interaction — or lack thereof — isn’t an issue.

“I am a paralegal student at Kaplan University and don’t believe I have missed an excellent education so far,” said Carla Cheyney, an independent research specialist from Stanton, Neb. “The professors are top-notch, and my adviser is always ready to help.”

Ryan Redding of Grand Blanc, Mich., who is taking his first online paralegal class through Eastern Michigan University, agreed. “It seems very challenging, and a great emphasis is being put on participation and interaction with other students,” he said.

Among respondents who approve of an all-online program, 66.7 percent said the biggest advantage is that it allows those with family or work commitments to obtain a paralegal education. No other survey choice for the main benefit received more than one vote.

While many respondents didn’t support an exclusively online education, their answers shifted dramatically when asked if programs that combine online and traditional courses are acceptable, with 78 percent approving and 22 percent disapproving.

“I teach paralegal education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and we have a combination of in-class time and online class [time]. It works very well,” said Stephanie Elliott-Park, a senior litigation paralegal and part-time instructor at UNCC. “I personally use my in-class time for speakers. We even use a class for a mock interview session, so our students are prepared to interview upon graduation.”

As for employment prospects after graduation, the survey revealed that online programs — and by extension, their graduates — still face a stigma, particularly due to the lack of ABA approval.

“Online programs are usually so fly-by-night that I would be afraid to hire someone who had only trained that way,” said Vanessa Beam, CLAS, AACP, a 20-year paralegal from Parkersburg, W.Va.

“Online paralegal programs don’t meet the ABA educational requirements. The paralegal profession will never be one voice. Therefore, we need to protect the educational standards nationally,” said 17-year paralegal Laura Ahtes, RP, DCP, of Wilmington, Del. “However, online continuing legal education for paralegals is the new wave and trend of the future. But does that mean we have to convert to online paralegal program education?”

According to Ahtes, the answer might depend on the ABA’s reaction. “Will they or will they not approve all-online programs?” she said. “They ultimately have the power to predict the educational future for paralegals.”


Survey results

Is an all-online education adequate for today’s paralegal students?

Yes: 26.8%

No: 73.2%


What is the No. 1 reason an all-online paralegal program is inadequate?

Lack of face-to-face interaction with classmates and instructor: 37.5%

No way to verify authenticity of students’ work: 34.4%

There currently are no ABA-approved all-online programs: 18.8%

Fewer opportunities to network: 6.2%

Lack of hands-on experience: 3.1%


What is the No. 1 benefit of completing an all-online education?

Enables students with family/work commitments to complete a program: 66.7%

Students can work at own pace and time of day: 11.1%

Allows those with disabilities or chronic illness to participate: 11.1%

Costs less than traditional education: 11.1%


Are programs combining online and traditional classroom courses adequate for paralegal education?

Yes: 78.0%

No: 22.0%


Total survey responses: 41



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