Paralegal FAQs

1. What is the difference between a paralegal and a legal assistant?

The American Bar Association defines a legal assistant or paralegal as “a person, qualified by education, training or work experience, who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.” Paralegals and legal assistants must not provide legal services directly to the public except as permitted by law.

In the definitions adopted by professional organizations and in the professional literature, the terms “paralegal” and “legal assistant” are usually used interchangeably, much like the terms “lawyer” and “attorney.” You may find that some employers use the term “legal assistant” to describe a person who performs mainly secretarial duties for a lawyer. This connotation evolved because many secretaries in other businesses now use the title “administrative assistant." As a result, in the Hartford area, the term “paralegal” is the term often used to describe the kind of work to be performed by someone who performs delegated substantive legal work under attorney supervision.

2. Do paralegals need to be licensed?

Because paralegals work under the supervision of licensed attorneys, they do not need to be separately licensed. Paralegals may not provide legal services directly to the public except as permitted by law. There are voluntary credentialization programs offered through the two national paralegal organizations, and graduates are encouraged to obtain the professional designations for which they qualify. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers an exam by which one can earn the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or Certified Paralegal (CP) designation. To learn more about the CLA or CP designations, visit the NALA website at www.nala.org. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) offers two credentialization exams. The Paralegal Core Competency Exam (PCCE) is for those new to the paralegal profession who can seek the Core Registered Paralegal (CRP) credential. Experienced paralegals can take the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE), by which one earns the designation of Registered Paralegal (RP). To learn more about PACE, visit the NFPA website at www.paralegals.org. Graduation from an ABA-approved program is increasingly enhanced by these professional designations.

3. What does it mean that the MCC Paralegal Program is approved by the American Bar Association?

The MCC Paralegal Program has been continuously approved by the American Bar Association since 1984. This means that the program meets stringent guidelines established by the ABA. This includes periodic reporting and site visits that examine the curriculum, library collection, faculty, student services, Advisory Committee, and information obtained from student, employer and graduate surveys. Our current ABA approval extends to February 2013.

Because the paralegal profession is largely unregulated, employers look for other indications of qualifications for entry into the field. Graduation from an ABA-approved paralegal program is an important factor in securing paralegal employment.

4. How can I get information about paralegal education at MCC?

You have several sources of information about the Paralegal Program at Manchester Community College. The college catalog lists all the requirements of the Paralegal associate degree and Paralegal certificate programs, as well as descriptions of the courses. It is available online at the MCC website at www.mcc.commnet.edu. You can also contact the Paralegal Program Coordinator, Attorney Mary Holland, at 860-512-2632, or email her at MHolland@manchestercc.edu for more information or with other questions you have about paralegal education. She is your primary contact for information about the MCC Paralegal Program.

Attorney Nance Kriscenski can also advise you about the Paralegal Program. Professor Kriscenski can be reached at 860-512-2642 or by email at NKriscenski@manchestercc.edu. It may be more convenient for you to speak with someone other than the program coordinator about your academic advisement questions, if you have them as an instructor. The program's faculty members will be happy to answer your questions. Any questions they have will be referred to the Paralegal Program Coordinator.

You may have part-time or adjunct professors for your courses. If you have a question they cannot answer, please contact the Paralegal Program Coordinator.

Because professors at MCC only have 10-month contracts, they may not be available during the summer. You can speak with someone in the MCC Advising and Counseling Center at 860-512-3320, or you can also contact the Division Director, Catherine Seaver, at CSeaver@manchestercc.edu or 860-512-2623.

5. What’s the difference between the Paralegal Program and the Administrative Assistant, Legal Option, Business Office Technology Program?

Compare the two curricula and you will see a different emphasis on the skills for each career. Entry into the paralegal field requires an understanding of legal concepts and procedures sufficient to prepare a paralegal to perform substantive, rather than clerical, tasks under attorney supervision. They are distinct educational programs. For information about the Administrative Assistant, Legal Option Program, please contact Carla Adams at CAdams@manchestercc.edu.

6. Is the Paralegal Program the right major for me?

The MCC Paralegal Program is designed for those who intend to work as paralegals, under attorney supervision, in a law office, legal department of a corporation, or for the government. Paralegals and legal assistants must not provide legal services directly to the public except as permitted by law. The associate degree program is the option you should select if you do not have a prior college degree. Students who have an educational associate degree (not vocational) or a bachelor’s degree in a different major may enroll in the certificate program. Some employers seek candidates who have a bachelor’s degree as well as paralegal education. Those who seek to advance in the paralegal profession should be prepared to obtain a bachelor’s degree, if they do not already have one. See Question 12 below regarding transfer opportunities.

Some students’ long-term goal is to enter law school, and obtain a law degree. A paralegal major is one avenue to that end. It is especially appropriate for those who want to work as paralegals while continuing their education.

Admission to law school does not require a particular undergraduate major. Some MCC paralegal graduates have obtained their law school degrees, after earning their bachelor’s degrees. For more information about pre-law, contact a MCC Paralegal Program faculty member, or visit the Law School Admissions Council website at www.lsac.org.

7. I enrolled in the MCC Paralegal Program, but the acceptance letter I received from the College says I am enrolled in another program. How do I get the major designated correctly?

All students must submit their high school transcripts and immunization verification to the Admissions Office before being registered in the Paralegal certificate or associate degree program. Until this information is submitted, you will be listed as a non-degree matriculated student.

You can obtain your high school transcript by contacting your high school and asking them to forward your transcript to the Admissions Office, Manchester Community College, MS #12, P.O. Box 1046, Manchester, CT 06045-1046. Connectcut law requires that all students born after December 31, 1956, provide proof that they have been immunized against measels and rubella. Consult the course schedule or contact the Registrar's Office at 860-512-3220, if you have any questions.

Once your file is complete, your major will be changed. Sometimes, however, there is an error in assigning you a major, or you decide to change majors while a student. If you want to change your major, complete a "Declare a Major" form, which can be obtained from the Admissions Office, from your advisor or through the Form Depot on the MCC website.

8. I already have a degree in another major. Should I enroll in the certificate or the associate degree program?

Because the ABA has certain requirements for general education, you may not be eligible for the certificate program. The certificate program is designed for those students who have a bachelor’s degree or an associate degree from an academic program. Students in the certificate program must send an official transcript to the Admissions Office upon enrolling, to ensure that they are qualified for the Paralegal certificate. If you obtained an associate in arts degree, your prior degree may not satisfy the general education requirements. Contact the college or university from which you obtained your prior degree, and ask that an official transcript be forwarded to the Admissions Office, Manchester Community College, MS #12, P.O. Box 1046, Manchester, CT 06045-1046. Ask your advisor to review the transcript with you to determine whether you should enroll in the certificate or associate degree program.

9. I don’t have a prior degree, but I previously earned college credits. Can these be applied to the Paralegal Program?

Only six credits of legal specialty courses may be transferred toward the MCC Paralegal (LGL*) requirements of your certificate or degree. These courses must be the equivalent of a paralegal course offered at MCC, and must be from an accredited institution that is approved by the American Bar Association or in substantial compliance with ABA Guidelines. These courses can also be transferred from a Connecticut community college that is not ABA-approved, provided the student’s competency in the technical specialty area is validated to the satisfaction of the faculty in the MCC Paralegal Program.

Credit for other non-LGL* courses from an accredited institution, for which a student has earned a grade of C- or better, may be applied toward the Paralegal certificate or associate degree. Additional transfer rules appear in the college catalog and the student handbook.

If you have more than six legal credits from a different institution, contact your advisor for advice as to how the MCC courses might better be applied toward obtaining a degree from the college you previously attended.

To process the transfer of credits, an official copy of your transcript from the college or university you attended must be forwarded to the Admissions Office, Manchester Community College, MS #12, P.O. Box 1046, Manchester, CT 06045-1046. Upon review of that transcript during your second semester at MCC, a statement will be sent to you regarding what credits have been applied.

10. What is a variance?

A variance is a request to the Academic Dean at MCC to vary the curriculum requirements for a particular student. A variance request may be initiated by an advisor if a student has achieved the objectives of the program, although the curriculum has not been followed precisely. For example, a student who has transferred a three-credit accounting course from another institution may seek a variance from the MCC four-credit Accounting 101 course so that additional credit from another course will be allowed to satisfy degree requirements; or perhaps, a transfer student took a legal specialty course at another ABA-approved program that is not the equivalent of one listed as a legal elective at MCC and has requested a variance. Variances are granted only under rare circumstances.

A variance request must be approved by the Program Coordinator, the Academic Division Director and the Academic Dean. The student is notified of approval or disapproval after consideration of the variance request by these individuals. A variance for the total number of credits a student must have before graduation, or a variance which waives a general education requirement such as mathematics or a natural science elective, is generally not appropriate.

11. Can I earn credit by examination for any of the courses?

There is currently no procedure for earning credit for paralegal courses at MCC, based on completing non-credit programs or work experience or by examination. However, a student who is enrolled in the Paralegal associate degree program at MCC may apply to earn credit by examination for some non-legal course requirements in the associate degree program. The Admissions Office can also advise you regarding other options for credit by examination, including College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests.

12. I want to transfer and earn my bachelor’s degree. What are my options as a paralegal major?

Graduates of the MCC Paralegal Program may transfer to the University of Hartford, Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT, or Bay Path College in Longmeadow, MA, all of which offer a bachelor’s degree in legal studies. A list of ABA-approved bachelor’s degree programs in legal studies from across the nation is available from your advisor or on the American Bar Associaton's website at www.abanet.org.

Some students want to transfer to Central Connecticut State University, Eastern Connecticut State University or the University of Connecticut to obtain their baccalaureate degrees. The Connecticut state universities do not offer a bachelor’s degree in legal studies, and therefore a different major must be selected. Students are advised to contact a transfer counselor at these colleges or universities regarding transfer of paralegal credits. Generally, the paralegal credits fit most readily into baccalaureate programs in the social sciences (as opposed to business). It is important to speak with a transfer counselor early in your academic career, so that you can select courses that meet both the MCC Paralegal associate degree requirements and the requirements of the institution to which you plan to transfer. Contact the Program Coordinator or the Advising and Counseling Center for information as to when transfer counselors are on the MCC campus to give you individual advice.

13. I haven’t previously worked in a law office or legal department. What are my chances of finding employment after graduation?

Work experience is an important component to finding paralegal employment after graduation. MCC gives you this opportunity through the legal elective, LGL* 270: Cooperative Education/Work Experience. Students participating in cooperative education opportunities earn academic credit while working in paid or unpaid placements related to their major. A student working a paid placement is required to complete 300 hours at the work site during the semester. An unpaid placement requires the completion of 150 hours. In addition, there is an academic or classroom component which must be completed to earn credit. This requires 15 hours of class (online option available) in which students examine interpersonal and job search skills.

If you are interested in cooperative education, contact Robert Henderson, Cooperative Education Director, at RHenderson@manchestercc.edu or 860-512-3312, during the semester preceding the semester in which you intend to enroll in LGL* 270. He will advise you of the procedures to be followed to participate in Cooperative Education.

Some students are already employed as paralegals while they are completing their Paralegal associate or certificate program. They may earn academic credit in LGL* 270 by complying with the requirements of a Conversion Cooperative Education. For more information, contact the Cooperative Education Director.

14. I am a part-time student. In what order should I take the courses?

When you look at the Paralegal curricula in the MCC catalog, you will see the suggested course sequencing for full-time students. Part-time students should follow that sequence to a large extent. You may take courses in any order, provided that prerequisites for each course are met.

It is recommended that students complete POL* 120: Introduction to Law early in their academic careers. POL* 120 is a prerequisite for LGL* 102: Legal Research and Writing, and both courses are prerequisites for LGL* 240: Legal Studies Capstone. LGL* 270: Cooperative Education/Work Experience requires students to have completed 12 credits of legal courses.

15. How will I know when a course will be offered?

Consult the course descriptions in the catalog to see which courses are offered only in the fall semester, and which are only offered in the spring. Many required courses in the MCC Paralegal Program are generally offered each semester, with one section at night, and sometimes a section during the day. There are fewer courses offered during the day, so day students should enroll in courses they would like to take when they are available. Legal electives are offered only periodically, except for LGL* 270: Cooperative Education/Work Experience, which is offered year-round. Legal courses are not generally offered during the summer, although Legal Environment of Business, Financial Accounting and the general education courses required for the associate degree are.

The course schedule is published online several months before registration. Course offerings in the schedule are dependent on sufficient enrollment and may also have class size limits. Students are encouraged to register at the earliest possible date to guarantee a place in their desired courses and to indicate that a course has sufficient enrollment to run. In times of high enrollment at the College, class enrollment often reaches its maximum long before the registration period is over. In low enrollment periods, courses are sometimes cancelled because students wait until the last day of registration to enroll. In either situation, it is best to register for your courses as soon as possible to ensure that you will be able to get the courses that you will need for graduation.

16. Is graduation from the Paralegal Program automatic?

An application for graduation must be made in accordance with strict deadlines established by the College and published in the academic calendar. This allows the Registrar’s Office time to ensure that a student has completed the degree requirements, with the requisite grade point average. Graduation applications must be filed by October for students intending to graduate in December, by March for students intending to graduate in May and by July for those graduating in August. A commencement ceremony is only held in May, but all graduates during that academic year may participate. Graduation applications and instructions can be obtained found on the MCC website at www.manchestercc.edu/admissions/pdf/formGradApplicationandInstructions.pdf and from the Admissions Office, ADvising and Counseling Center and the Dean of Students Affairs Office. If you have questions concerning the completion of your program requirements or your application, contact your advisor or the Registrar’s Office regarding a graduation audit.

Last Update: December 28 2012
For additional information, contact: Beverly Ferrigno