Certificate in Paralegal Studies

Program Scope and Objectives

Paralegal Studies is a 24 unit certificate program, providing instruction in practical legal skills and substantive law. All coursework is taught at the upper-division level by attorneys and working paralegals.

The primary goal of the program is to educate students for positions as paralegals as a means of improving the quality, accessibility, and affordability of legal services. The program started in 1975 and has graduated well over a thousand paralegals. Further information on the program’s key objectives and the mission statement submitted to the American Bar Association (ABA) can be found on the paralegal program’s website.


For over 40 years, the Paralegal Studies Certificate Program, an American Bar Association-approved paralegal studies program, has been providing educational excellence to its students.

California legislation defines who may call himself or herself a paralegal and sets forth education criteria for paralegals. One of the criteria is graduation from a program approved by the American Bar Association. Please refer to the section on California Legislation on Paralegals cited below.

California Legislation on Paralegals

The state of California has adopted legislation that defines the titles “paralegal” and “legal assistant” and sets educational criteria and continuing education requirements for paralegals. The San Francisco State University Paralegal Studies certificate program meets the educational requirements of the law by virtue of being offered by an accredited institution with an ABA-approved program, and consisting of more than 24 units of paralegal coursework. We also offer a series of paralegal continuing education courses to meet the continuing education standards established by the Business and Professions Code Section 6450 et. seq.


All courses in this program are taught by attorneys and/or paralegals with practical experience in their respective fields. We currently have four program graduates on our faculty.

Career Outlook

Paralegals are employed in private and public interest law firms, corporations, banks, securities firms, government agencies, and regulatory bodies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks the paralegal occupation as one of the fastest growing in the country. Recent state legislation requires that persons working as paralegals meet specified educational and continuing education requirements.

Admission to Program

Applicants who hold a baccalaureate degree, either from the US or another country, are automatically eligible for admission to the program. Applicants who do not have a baccalaureate degree are required to have a minimum of 60 semester or 90 quarter units of prior academic college credit with at least 30 semester (45 quarter) units of academic general education courses in four basic skills courses:

  • oral communication,
  • written composition,
  • critical thinking, and
  • mathematics or quantitative reasoning.

Additionally, applicants must have an overall GPA of 2.5 or better and all coursework must have been completed within 10 years of applying to the program.

Applicants with at least three years of legal employment and 45 semester (68 quarter) units may petition for conditional admission. Transcripts verifying these units must be accompanied by an attorney declaration attesting to their legal work experience, which must have been within five years of their application to the program.

Writing Skills

Paralegal courses require strong writing skills. Certificate students who do not have a bachelor’s degree must pass a University-approved Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement course (GWAR). PLS 414GW is an approved GWAR course and also counts as elective units that can be applied toward the certificate.

A certificate is awarded upon successful completion of 30 units. The 30 units required to earn the certificate consist of five required courses and five elective courses.

Program Learning Outcomes

  1. Apply ethical principles that guide paralegal conduct in real-world situations.
  2. Compile and evaluate research to support attorney needs.
  3. Apply legal knowledge to support the litigation process.
  4. Demonstrate clear, concise, and organized oral and written communication skills.
  5. Utilize fundamental legal concepts which govern the practice of law.

Certificate in Paralegal Studies - 24 units

Required Courses (15 units)

PLS 300Introduction to Civil Procedure3
PLS 305Investigation, Discovery & Trial Preparation3
PLS 310Communication Skills and Legal Ethics3
PLS 320Legal Research & Writing3
PLS 395Pleadings3

Electives (9 units)

Select three courses from the following:

PLS 325Employment Law3
PLS 330Family Law3
PLS 345Immigration Law3
PLS 355Wills Trust Estate Plan3
PLS 370Criminal Law3
PLS 380Field Experience Paralegal Studies3
PLS 386Contemporary Legal Issues: Constitutional Law in the 21st Century3
PLS 390Corporations Law3
PLS 410Real Estate Practice3
PLS 414GWIntroduction to Professional Legal Writing - GWAR 13
PLS 425Torts3
PLS 426Contracts3
PLS 430Computer Application in Law Practice3
PLS 435Patents3
PLS 436Trademarks and Copyrights3

1 PLS 414GW is required of all students who do not have a bachelor's degree.