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American Bar Association - ABA Approved Paralegal Program

A Career Where You Can Help Others

Southwestern College offers the following American Bar Association (ABA) approved programs:   Paralegal Studies Certificate of Achievement, Paralegal Studies Associate’s Degree, Paralegal Studies—Bilingual Certificate of Achievement, and Paralegal Studies – Bilingual Associate’s Degree. These programs are approved to be completed entirely online.  As per ABA requirements, students take a minimum of nine semester credits of legal specialty coursework through synchronous instruction (which can include courses completed through synchronous videoconferencing format).  The department ensures compliance with this through the scheduling process.  

These programs prepare students for rewarding careers in the legal industry as paralegal professionals working under the direct supervision of lawyers in the public and private sectors. A paralegal's responsibilities can be broad and varied including preparing and translating legal documents, interviewing clients, performing legal research, investigating facts, preparing cases for trial,and organizing and managing documents.  Paralegals often work under the supervision of attorneys in specialized areas of law such as immigration, family law, probate, workers compensation, criminal law and civil litigation.  Given the geographic location of Southwestern College, our programs also serve those students who would like to learn more about the legal aspects of international business 

Southwestern College paralegal graduates work in a variety of legal settings in the greater San Diego area as well as in our local Chula Vista and South Bay service areas. Students learn the concepts of procedural and substantive law, in both federal and state courts. Our graduates also work in courthouses throughout the county. 

The Paralegal Studies Program prepares students to work under the supervision of an attorney in accordance with California law. A paralegal may not engage in the unauthorized practice of law by accepting cases, giving legal advice, appearing in court, or setting fees for clients. To do so would be a crime in the state of California. Paralegals are also known as Legal Assistants and are regulated by California law under the Business & Professions Code §6450.  Paralegals work under the supervision of an attorney, and may not give out legal advice. 

Learn More. Earn More.

Paralegals typically: 

  • Investigate the facts of a case
  • Conduct research on relevant laws, regulations and legal articles
  • Organize and present information
  • Keep information related to cases or transactions in computer databases
  • Write reports to help lawyers prepare for trials
  • Draft correspondence and other documents, such as contracts and mortgages
  • Work on affidavits and other formal statements that may be used as evidence in court
  • Help lawyers during trials 

Specific duties may vary depending on the size of the firm or organization. In smaller firms, paralegal duties tend to vary more. In addition to reviewing and organizing information, paralegals may prepare written reports that help lawyers determine how to handle their cases. If lawyers decide to file lawsuits on behalf of clients, paralegals may help prepare the legal arguments and draft documents to be filed with the court. 

In larger organizations, paralegals may work mostly on a particular phase of a case, rather than handling a case from beginning to end. For example, a litigation paralegal might only review legal material for internal use, maintain reference files, conduct research for lawyers and collect and organize evidence for hearings. Litigation paralegals often do not attend trials, but might prepare trial documents or draft settlement agreements. Similarly, a paralegal working in trusts and estates, for example, might have a focus on customizing and preparing documents. 

Law firms increasingly use technology and computer software. Paralegals use computer software to draft and index documents and prepare presentations. In addition, paralegals must be familiar with electronic database management and be up to date on the latest software used for electronic discovery. 

Paralegals can assume more responsibilities by specializing in areas such as litigation, personal injury, corporate law, criminal law, employee benefits, intellectual property, bankruptcy, immigration, family law and real estate. In addition, experienced paralegals may assume supervisory responsibilities, such as overseeing team projects or delegating work to other paralegals. 

Career Options

Some paralegal jobs require a certificate of achievement, some require an associate in science degree, and some require a bachelor's degree.  Different options include both working as a paralegal and in related fields.  Roles could include paralegal, corporate legal assistant, court clerk, customs agent, forms and procedures specialist, legal assistant, investigator (for local, state, and federal departments and agencies), legal research assistant, legal technician, patent agent (for those with a scientific or technical background), claims examiner, compensation and benefits manager, and title examiner. This training can also provide entrance to some careers in administration of justice such a youth authority, probation, and parole officer when a candidate passes appropriate tests and gains related experience. 

Paralegal Information

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Cesar Chavez Building

Professor Elisabeth Shapiro, Esq., Department Chair

Director of Paralegal Program

Current Catalog

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