West Valley College offers a post-degree 35 semester unit certificate program for those students who already have an associate or higher degree. For those students who do not already have a degree, West Valley offers an Associate of Science degree in Paralegal. Students who earn the degree also qualify for the certificate.
- A rigorous academic and practical education at affordable community college rates.
- Instruction in practical legal skills and substantive law emphasizing both civil litigation and legal research.
- Training in document preparation and law office management.
- Electives in a variety of legal specialties. Examples include Intellectual Property, Family Law, Elder Law, and Immigration Law.
The Program monitors the needs of the legal community to assure that our graduates have the skills and knowledge to meet those needs.
All students get the benefits of a required hands-on internship from an approved employer of their choosing. The internship offers students the opportunity to test their education and training out in the field.
To assure compliance with the law, many firms have set up systems to check and record the qualifications of current paralegals and future hires. A certificate from West Valley College is an assurance to employers that the paralegal is well prepared to provide quality legal services to his or her employers and clients.
The primary goal of the Paralegal Program is to prepare students for positions as paralegals as a means of improving the accessibility, quality and affordability of legal services. West Valley's Paralegal Program is responsive to the needs of the State of California and contributes to the advancement of legal professionals.
Students who successfully complete the Paralegal Program will be able to
- Describe the American legal system.
- Describe the practice of law and the paralegal's role in the legal profession.
- Demonstrate the skills and knowledge needed to work in civil litigation.
- Demonstrate the skills and knowledge needed to do legal research.
- Demonstrate strong written and oral communication skills.
- Apply the ethical rules and regulations applicable to paralegals and other legal professionals to given situations.
- Demonstrate knowledge and abilities based on the balanced education they receive from the integration of general education, legal theory, and practical legal course work.
- Demonstrate skills needed to function in those areas of practice offered as electives by the program.
Length of Program
If you already have a degree (Associate degree or higher), you need only take the 13 required Paralegal courses and 6 units in Paralegal electives. (35 units)
Those who do not have a degree must take the required courses and the American Bar Association approved general education courses required to earn an A.S. degree. (25 units) Please see these courses in the course catalog.
To determine whether your degree from another college or university is acceptable by the College, you should contact the Counseling Department at 408-741-2009.
How long it takes to complete the program is up to you. The program is designed for completion in 3 semesters if a student already has a degree and can attend full-time. Some students take less time by taking courses during summer sessions. However, many of our students take 3 or more years to complete the program because they are also working full-time and/or raising a family.
If you already have a degree and want to know how long it will take to complete the program, just calculate how many of the 15 paralegal courses you can take each semester. If you do not have a degree, you should consult with Counseling to create an education plan for both paralegal and general education courses.
Cost of Program
See information about the current cost of classes.
Many classes require textbooks, and the costs can vary. For help with financial issues, contact Financial Aid at 408-741-2024
ABA Approved Paralegal Program Status
West Valley's Paralegal Program has earned the approval of the American Bar Association. Approval by the ABA assures students and Bay Area employers that the program meets the requirements for paralegal education under California law (California Business & Professions Code section 6450 et seq.).
- A member of the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAFPE).
- A sustaining member of the Paralegal Association of Santa Clara County (PASCCO).
- Accredited through West Valley College by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
- Approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).
A paralegal may perform the same functions as an attorney except those that only a licensed attorney may perform. Paralegals cannot give legal advice, appear in court, or otherwise engage in the unauthorized practice of law. The practice of law by non-attorneys is strictly prohibited by law. (See California Business and Professions Code Section 6450 (a)).
California law * sets minimum education and training requirements for persons who perform paralegal tasks, such as:
- Case planning, development, and management
- Legal research
- Interviewing clients
- Fact gathering and retrieving information
- Drafting and analyzing legal documents.
These requirements apply to paralegals who contract with or are employed by an attorney, law firm, corporation, government agency, or other entity.
Evidence of the necessary education and/or training can be shown by one of the following four ways:
- A certificate from an ABA-approved paralegal program.
- A certificate or degree from a paralegal program in a state-approved/accredited institution that requires a minimum of 24-semester units.
- A BA/BS degree in any subject and one year of law-related experience under the supervision of a lawyer and a written declaration from this lawyer stating that the person is qualified to perform paralegal tasks.
- A high school diploma or GED and three years of law law-related experience under the supervision of a lawyer and a written declaration from this lawyer stating that the person is qualified to perform paralegal tasks. This provision sunset on December 31, 2003. The three years of training must have been completed by that date.
In the final two examples above, the lawyer who supervises the employee must, for at least three years prior to supervision, have been licensed in California or have practiced in the California federal courts.
* California Business & Professions Code section 6450 et seq. The Business and Professions Code sections applicable to paralegals can be viewed at California Legislative Information.
Paralegals work side-by-side with lawyers and other legal professionals. They must work under the direct supervision of an attorney, drafting documents and preparing them for filing, performing legal research, assisting the attorney with trial preparation, and working with clients.
Paralegals work everywhere. Our graduates are employed by law firms, corporate legal departments, and various government agencies. You will also find them in financial institutions, insurance companies, and real estate and title insurance firms.
Some paralegals prefer helping others and choose family law or legal aid. Others like the excitement of the courtroom and enter litigation or criminal law. Some also work for the courts, assisting judges. Many people with nursing and health backgrounds prefer personal injury or medical malpractice specialties. Others choose to work in such areas as intellectual property, immigration, elder issues, and environmental law.
Examples of Paralegal Responsibilities
- Investigate facts and work with attorneys to prepare a case for trial.
- Review and/or summarize documents such as medical records, contracts, deposition transcripts.
- Research the law that applies to a client's case.
- Prepare legal documents such as briefs, pleadings, wills, contracts, and patent applications.
- Help attorneys prepare for hearings, trials, corporate meetings, and real estate closings.
- Use computers to locate and organize legal, government, and public records.
- Maintain complex files, both manually and by using case management software.
Paralegals in the South Bay Area
- The number of paralegal jobs will increase by 55% through the year 2020.
- Wages vary by education and experience.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I apply to the Paralegal Program?
- The Paralegal Program is part of the California Community College system; you do not have to apply to the program. If you have a high school diploma or its equivalent, you need only register with the college and enroll in Paralegal courses.
How much does it cost?
How many courses do I need to take to earn a certificate?
- If you already have a degree (associate degree or higher), you need only take the 13 required Paralegal courses and 6 units in Paralegal electives. (35 units) If you do not have a degree, you must take these courses and the general education courses required to earn an A.S. degree. (25 units) To determine whether your degree from another college or university is acceptable by the College, you should contact the Counseling Department at 408-741-2009 or Counseling Services.
How long does it take to graduate?
- How long it takes to complete the program is up to you. The program is designed for completion in 3 semesters if a student already has a degree and can attend full-time. Some students take less time by also taking courses during summer sessions. However, many of our students take 3 or more years to complete the program because they are also working full-time and/or raising a family. If you already have a degree and want to know how long it will take to complete the program, just calculate how many of the 15 paralegal courses you can take each semester. If you do not have a degree, you should consult with Counseling to create an education plan for both paralegal and general education courses.
How long are the semesters and sessions?
- Fall and Spring semesters are 16 weeks long. Fall generally begins the Monday before Labor Day. Spring generally begins the last Monday in January. Check the current schedules for the actual dates. Summer Session courses run 4 or 6 weeks long beginning in June. Classes in summer meet either 3 or 4 days a week.
Do you have day and/or evening classes?
- We have mostly evening classes because most of our students work. When we offer day classes they meet once a week for 3 hours each day. The evening classes meet once a week (M T W or Th only) for 3 hours. Most evening classes begin between 6:00 - 6:30 p.m. The Fall and Spring semesters are 16 weeks.
Do you have any online courses?
- We currently do not have online courses.
When can I check which classes are scheduled for the next semester or session?
- Every year, the schedule of classes for Spring semester and Winter session is available online in November. The schedule for Summer session and Fall Semester is available in April. Paper versions of the schedules are available a few weeks after the online schedules are posted.
How can I check online for classes?
Students can check for class offerings from the online searchable class schedule.
What courses should I take first?
Students who have no prior law office experience should enroll in Para 19 (Introduction to Paralegal Studies) and/or Para 21 (Introduction to American Law). They are the two introductory courses that support all our other courses. Take a look at the suggested sequence of classes.
How can I find out more about the Program before enrolling in courses?
There is an Orientation session for new and prospective students before every Fall and Spring semesters. Orientations are on the Wednesday before classes start. More information is posted on the Career Programs Events web page or contact the Program Chair Stacy Hopkins or Career Programs Center.
Is West Valley's Program ABA approved?
West Valley's Paralegal Program has maintained the approval of the American Bar Association since 1996. Approval by the ABA assures students and Bay Area employers that the program meets the requirements for paralegal education under California law (California Business and Professions Code section 6450 et seq.).
Where is West Valley and/or where are the Paralegal courses taught?
The Paralegal Program is part of the School of Professional Studies. Most courses are taught in the Che, Cilker, or Fox buildings. See West Valley College maps for getting to and around campus.
Paralegal Professional Organizations & Publications
- ABA Standing Committee on Paralegals
- CAPA: California Alliance of Paralegal Associations
- Legal Assistant Today
- NALA: National Association of Legal Assistants
- NFPA: National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- PASCCO: Paralegal Association of Santa Clara County
- SCCoLPA: Santa Clara County Legal Professionals Association