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Paralegal Studies

Next Program Entry:
February 23, 2019
Saturdays, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Dallas campus
6 months
In person
Priority Rate (available until 2 weeks before start date): $5,495 (books and materials included)
Standard Rate: $5,745 (books and materials included) 
Paralegals are an essential part of the successful practice of law. The SMU PRO Paralegal Studies Certificate is a six-month, noncredit certificate program emphasizing the practical skills essential to the legal environment. Experienced, professional instructors make learning engaging, applicable and fun.

Why Choose SMU PRO?

  • Courses are taught by practicing professionals — attorneys and paralegals — experts with real-world experience
  • Six months start to finish
  • Evening and weekend options fit with your busy life

Who Should Attend?

  • Legal staff who want to upgrade their skills
  • Students considering law school
  • Anyone seeking knowledge of the paralegal profession

Entrance Requirements

Admission into the program requires a four-year undergraduate degree, ensuring that graduates are both qualified for employment and prepared for the level of training offered at SMU. Exceptions may be made based on experience.

Course Overview

The certificate program is divided into seven courses for a total of over 125 contact hours. In these interactive, engaging classes, you will learn from experts in the classroom setting, collaborate with your peers and receive instruction on résumé writing and interviewing skills.
Introduction to Law: Learn about the sources of law in the United States, the court system and the basics of attorney/paralegal ethics
Tort and Personal Injury Law: Torts are civil wrongs that do not arise from a contractual relationship. Learn the differences between negligence, intentional torts and strict liability.
Legal Research and Writing: Gain the essential skills of analysis and write basic legal documents using the online Westlaw database. Understand proper Bluebook and Greenbook citation formats and how to draft a legal memorandum.
Civil Litigation: Understand the role of the paralegal in preparing for and conducting civil litigation. Draft a petition, discovery documents and a deposition summary.
Legal Technology: Learn to navigate the processes for state and federal court electronic filings. Research a case in state and federal court through online court docket systems, review technologies utilized in legal practice and master the fundamentals of electronic discovery.
Contract Law: Review the basic requirements of contract formation and the role of paralegals in drafting simple contracts. Written assignments include drafting of contractual provisions.
Survey of Law: Overview fundamental principles of bankruptcy, real and intellectual property, business organizations and corporate law, employment law, family law, and wills and trusts. Additionally, Career Preparation sessions overview the legal workplace, resume writing, and more.

Tuition and Fees

  • A $50 non-refundable application fee must be paid before submitting your completed registration form and photocopy of your undergraduate transcript.
  • The priority registration fee for students who have registered and paid by the priority registration deadline is $5,495. All textbooks and materials are included.
  • The standard registration fee after the priority deadline has passed is $5,745.
  • SMU faculty, staff, students and alumni save 10%.

Payments and Financing

The down payment is $2872.50. Full tuition is due at least three weeks before the program start date. Incomplete payment results in a hold on your account for 24 hours, after which you will lose your seat in the program. Your funds will be escrowed to use within one year, or you can request a refund minus a $250 processing fee.
  1. Complete and submit the application form related to the certificate program of your choice.
  2. Indicate if you will be utilizing the payment plan.
  3. Make the $2872.50 down payment to secure your seat in the program.
  4. Make payments toward tuition in installment amounts of your choice. Full tuition is due three weeks before the program begins.
SMU PRO utilizes Sallie Mae for their Smart Options Continuing Education Student Loan. Please note that your requested loan amount cannot exceed the program tuition.
YOUR SALLIE MAE LOAN APPLICATION MUST BE COMPLETE AND APPROVED 14 DAYS BEFORE THE FIRST DAY OF THE PROGRAM, and is not complete until you electronically sign your application in the Sallie Mae portal.
  1. Complete and submit the application form related to the certificate program of your choice.
  2. Indicate if you are seeking Sallie Mae as a tuition option for your program.
  3. Apply for the loan through our official Sallie Mae portal website. You will receive your decision within 30 minutes. Within 24–48 hours of approval, Sallie Mae will notify SMU PRO.
  4. You will receive an award letter from the SMU PRO office and a registration email confirming your enrollment in the program.

Next Steps

  • Complete the online application and attach a photocopy of your undergraduate transcript or diploma when prompted.
  • SMU PRO will confirm your acceptance and facilitate your payment for the program of your choice.

Program Requirements

Do I need to have a college degree to register for the program?

Qualified applicants for our Paralegal Studies Certificate program hold a bachelor’s degree. Prospects without a degree must possess a minimum of four years of legal experience, and exceptions will be considered on an individual basis. Please contact a program advisor to discuss your options.

What are the TOEFL score requirements?

We recommend non-native English speakers have a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) score of at least 250 on the paper-based exam or 100 on the internet-based exam. These scores are recommended, but not required. I don’t have a legal background; will I be able to keep up? Qualified applicants are not required to possess a legal background for this certificate program. It is designed for legal staff, anyone seeking knowledge of the paralegal profession, and students considering law school.

When and where is the program offered?

The program is offered in the Spring on Saturdays from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.; in the Summer on weeknight evenings from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.; in the Fall on Saturdays from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. and on weeknight evenings from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Is this program ABA-approved?

Although our program is not ABA-approved, it provides the same rigorous legal training. Unlike ABA accreditation for Law Schools, which is mandatory, ABA approval for paralegal programs is voluntary. ABA approval is typically associated with two-year colleges, and requires the completion of sixty (60) semester hours of course work, including core undergraduate courses. Because students in the SMU PRO program are college graduates, our program moves faster because it focuses exclusively on legal course work.

How many hours outside of class will I need to devote to studying?

Time devoted to studies will vary among individuals; however, students typically spend 3-6 hours a week on course material.

Will I receive a grade in each course? Are there exams?

Students receive letter grades for each course. Exams are given in an online format; some courses include in-class projects.

Can I take a single paralegal course?

No, students must take the full program.

What is the passing score in each paralegal course? What if I fail?

Students must earn a minimum of 70% in each course and have an overall average of 75% in the program to earn the SMU PRO Paralegal Studies Certificate. If you fail a course, you can continue with your program, but you will need to retake the failed course with the next cohort (open spaces are not guaranteed). The program must be completed successfully within 18 months to receive a certificate.

Are there any required textbooks or additional costs?

The cost of the certificate program includes textbooks. An email from the SMU PRO office as your class date approaches gives instructions for picking up your books.

Can I take the course online?

No, the entire Paralegal Studies Certificate must be taken in person.

Why a certificate program?

Many paralegal positions (especially in the Dallas market) require a bachelor’s degree AND a paralegal certificate or paralegal education. The SMU PRO program gives a competitive advantage to candidates with bachelor’s degrees because they earn a certificate in six months.

Will graduates of the program be able to take paralegal certification exams?

Graduates of this program may qualify to take certification exams including NFPA’s “PCCE” (Paralegal CORE Competency Exam) and NALA’s examination. Please check the related website of the association for requirements.

What can I expect for employment? What is the average salary?

According to the State Bar of Texas Department of Research & Analysis, 94.8 % of paralegals are employed full-time. Salaries vary with the size of the firm or organization and experience, but the average salary in the DFW area is $57,310.

What is the difference between a certificate and certification?

A certificate is earned through successful completion of a paralegal program of study. Most paralegal positions in the Dallas market seek candidates with a Bachelor’s degree and a certificate. Certification, or a “certified” paralegal, indicates passing one of the voluntary examinations administered by a specific paralegal association or the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

Registration and Enrollment

Do you offer financial assistance? Will it cover the cost of textbooks?

This certificate has been approved by the VA for use with the GI Bill®. SMU has a relationship with Sallie Mae for their Smart Options Continuing Education Student Loan for those enrolling in the entire package. To apply for this loan, follow the steps outlined on the Enrollment and Financing page. Please note that your requested loan amount cannot exceed the program tuition.

How do I register?

To register for the certificate program package:
  1. Register for the program online, and pay the non-refundable $50 fee. Payment of the application fee does not guarantee a seat in the class/program
  2. Upon registering, you will receive, via email, a confirmation receipt* and the program application. Return the completed application and requested documents to
  3. Your student advisor will confirm your acceptance and send accepted students a welcome email with the next steps toward enrollment.
*Please note that your seat in the program is not guaranteed until registration is paid in full.

Can I make multiple payments throughout the program?

No, you must pay for the full amount at one time. Please see Tuition and Financing for more details.

Do you offer discounts?

SMU students, alumni, faculty/staff, veterans and employees of nonprofit organizations receive a 10% discount off our courses. If you qualify for a discount, contact the SMU PRO office at 214-768-2273. Discounts are applied to the standard tuition rate. The program has been approved by the VA for use with the GI Bill®. Select corporate and group rates are available; contact a program advisor for more details. If you qualify for more than one special rate, you will be given the one with the most savings.

General Information

Do you offer job placement/internships?

Your success is important to us and we want to provide you with opportunities to reach your goals. To that end, complimentary career coaching exclusively benefits our certificate program participants. Career coaching is designed for exploring topics relevant to your career success in a flexible and personalized format. Career coaching does not guarantee job placement.

I still have more questions; can I speak with an advisor?

Yes, please email and our program advisor will be in touch with you.
SMU PRO Paralegal Certificate instructors include licensed, practicing attorneys and paralegals selected both for their legal expertise and teaching ability. Their real-world experience brings special insight into the practical aspects of the profession.

Bruce Akerly

Bruce Akerly is a partner with Malone Akerly Martin, PLLC, in Dallas, Texas, where he heads the firm’s Creditors’ Rights and Bankruptcy Practice Group. His primary areas of practice include commercial litigation, bankruptcy and financial restructuring, and creditor rights. He has represented clients in negotiations, settlements, mediations, trial and appeal of various forms of commercial, bankruptcy and business entity disputes, commercial litigation and other contested matters before administrative, state and federal courts.
He earned his B.A. degree from Southwest Texas State University and his J.D. degree, cum laude, from Texas Tech University School of Law. He was a law clerk to The Hon. Mary Lou Robinson, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas, and is admitted to practice before the United State Supreme Court, all U.S. District courts in the states of Texas and Wisconsin, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, the Eastern District of Michigan, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th and 6th Circuits and the 10th Circuit B.A.P.

Lamont Aldridge

Lamont Aldridge has worked as a private investigator for eight years. He became a process server and contract paralegal in 2008. He has been working and communicating with court clerks around the state since 2008. Mr. Aldridge has always been proactive in his business. An expert in e-filing, he brings his knowledge to the SMU PRO classroom.

Michele Boerder, CP, BCP-TBLS

Board Certified Paralegal – Civil Trial Law, Texas Board of Legal Specialization
Michele Boerder is a senior paralegal in the Dallas office of Morgan Lewis & Bockius, LLP, and has 37 years of experience. She has both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the University of North Texas and received an A.A. from the El Centro College Paralegal Program in 1979. She is a Board Certified Paralegal – Civil Trial, Texas Board of Legal Specialization and a Certified Paralegal (“CP” through NALA), as well as a past President of the Paralegal Division, State Bar of Texas, and a past President of the Dallas Area Paralegal Association.
Ms. Boerder served on the State Bar of Texas Paralegal Committee, the TBLS Paralegal Civil Trial Commission, NFPA's Certification Standards Committee, and Paralegal Today magazine’s editorial review board. She received the Dallas Area Paralegal Association’s Paralegal of the Year Award in 1995, NFPA's Paralegal of the Year Award in 2005 and the Dallas Area Paralegal Association's "Michele M. Boerder Lifetime Achievement" award in 2006.

Jennifer Dillon

Jennifer Dillon was a paralegal for seven years in family law, personal injury, and other civil litigation. She graduated from TWU School of Law, was licensed and opened a practice in January 2014, in her hometown, Arlington. Her firm is a general civil practice with focus on personal injury, family law, probate and guardianship. She enjoys teaching “Torts and Personal Injury Law” with SMU PRO and introducing her students to the inner workings of the courtroom, along with the other practical aspects of her practice and previous paralegal experience.

Arlene Ferrell

Arlene Ferrell is a Senior Technology Training Specialist who partners with attorneys and legal staff to enhance their computer skills in legal-specific technology. In addition to over 25 years of legal experience, she also holds a B.A. in Psychology from Saint Mary’s University. She is a Microsoft Certified Master Trainer, an active member of the International Legal Technology Association and of the American Society of Training and Development, and a former Board Member with Chief Learning Officer magazine, serving the Business Intelligence team.
With her computer teaching expertise, Ms. Ferrell has the innate ability to connect with individuals and make the computer learning process a less stressful experience. She is cognizant of the importance of communicating her understanding to participants in her classes on a level that they understand and can implement.

Lindsey Hardy

Lindsey Hardy is an associate at Fanning Harper Martinson Brandt & Kutchin, P.C. Before joining the firm, she gained significant experience in the areas of civil tort defense and products liability defense as a trial attorney for another Dallas-based firm. Her practice areas also include employment and commercial litigation.
Ms. Hardy holds a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin and a J.D. from Southern Methodist University, Dedman School of Law.

Kristine Horn

Kristine Horn specializes in complex commercial litigation and has enjoyed an active trial and appellate practice since her licensure in 1989. While in private practice, she worked with both large and boutique firms and tried numerous cases in state and federal court. Her broad range of experience includes litigation concerning securities fraud, antitrust and unfair competition, contract disputes, consumer law, fiduciary obligations, employment law, healthcare, ERISA, intellectual property and white-collar crime.
Ms. Horn has served as appellate counsel in Texas, Colorado, New York and Florida state courts, and in the 5th and 2nd Circuit Courts of Appeal. Her arguments before the 5th Circuit include criminal cases in which she was appointed by the court to serve as counsel for indigent defendants.
Ms. Horn has written several legal articles and teaches an in-house constitutional law seminar for law schools across the country to assist students preparing for the multi-state bar exam. She currently works as an attorney for the 5th Court of Appeals.

Joan E. Marshall

Joan E. Marshall is Regional Fraud Counsel for the United States Department of Defense, Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA). Before joining DCMA, she was a partner in the Dallas office of GeyerGorey, LLP, and represented clients in antitrust and white-collar criminal defense matters, corporate compliance, internal investigations, and qui tam and whistleblower litigation. Ms. Marshall investigated and prosecuted domestic and international white-collar crimes for more than fifteen years as a trial attorney for the United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division.
Ms. Marshall is a recipient of the United States Department of Justice, Assistant Attorney General’s Award and certificates of appreciation from the United States Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, and the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command, Major Procurement Fraud Unit. Marshall was a staff attorney at the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas. She is a graduate of the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University and has a B.B.A. in Economics from the University of North Texas.

Rusty O’Kane

Rusty O’Kane is an attorney in the litigation section of Wick Phillips Gould & Martin, LLP, focusing on a wide variety of civil disputes.
Prior to joining Wick Phillips, Rusty was a litigation associate in the Chicago office of Mayer Brown, LLP, where he handled all aspects of discovery, including drafting and responding to discovery requests, taking and defending depositions, implementing e-discovery and managing teams of attorneys in the fact-development process. Before that, he was a trial attorney with Anderson, Rasor & Partners in Chicago, where he gained extensive litigation experience in federal and state court, including taking and defending depositions, briefing and arguing dispositive motions, and defending hospitals, nursing homes, physicians and other healthcare professionals in malpractice actions.
After moving to Dallas in 2014, Rusty joined the Board of Directors for the Texas Young Lawyers Association, the public service arm of the State Bar of Texas.

George Shires

George Shires graduated from SMU’s Dedman School of Law with honors in 2010, and has worked over seven years for a law firm practicing in real estate, energy, probate and estates law. He has been a member of the State Bar of Texas Pro Bono College for the last four years, volunteering on several legal matters for Legal Aid’s Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, and Disability Rights Texas, and was named as DVAP’s Volunteer of the Month for September 2015. He is also licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania and before several federal courts.

Danny Thankachan

Danny Thankachan is Partner of Legal Transformation for ChainAdvisors, LLC. He received his J.D. from the Cardozo School of Law, New York, and his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of California, Los Angeles. He is an experienced IT/network administrator, trial technology consultant and electronic discovery consultant. He has testified before state and federal courts with both written and oral testimony on e-discovery topics. Danny provides attorneys with consulting services on Electronic Discovery collection, chain-of-custody, and preservation. He also designs custom project management and litigation workflow systems on the Relativity platform. In court, he provides technical and logistical services including presentation of testimony and documentary evidence.

Sara Wahl

Sara Wahl is a business attorney with thirteen years of experience in bankruptcy and bankruptcy related litigation. She graduated cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School in 2000 and relocated from Minnesota to Texas to begin her legal career at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld, LLP. In 2011, she moved her practice to Curran Tomko Tarski, LLP, and most recently she was at Elmore Law, PLLC. After combining private law practice with teaching at the SMU PRO Paralegal Studies Certificate Program for a year, Ms. Wahl resigned from her law firm in early 2014 to focus on teaching as well as on raising her two young children. She enjoys writing and teaching legal research and writing. Over the years, she has written many articles for various publications and is a contributing author to the Mortgage and Asset Backed Securities Litigation Handbook. In 2017, Ms. Wahl joined the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas (HRI) as the Crime Victims Attorney. HRI provides free legal and social services to immigrants who have been victims of human rights abuses.

Toya J. Walker

Toya J. Walker is a multi-talented legal and compliance professional. She currently serves as an Appellate Paralegal at Waters & Kraus. Ms. Walker has been a paralegal since 2002, and has worked in the public and private sector including firms, corporations, government, and educational institutions.
She graduated cum laude in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Southern University. In 2002, she graduated from Southeastern Paralegal Institute in Dallas, Texas, where she obtained her paralegal certificate. During her tenure, Ms. Walker has served on the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition Texas Advisory Committee, NALA Continuing Education Council, Director for the State Bar of Texas Paralegal Division, Ambassador of the J.L. Turner Legal Association-Paralegal Section, and Leadership Southlake Alumni.
Ms. Walker has received several awards and has been featured in the online publication, NALA's Fact and Findings publication, the Texas Paralegal Journal, The Paralegal Press, The Dallas Weekly magazine, and is an honoree of Who’s Who in Black Dallas.

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