Thanks for the accept. Obviously, the better the firm, the better a paralegal's credentials should be. For some of the major litigation firms where discovery material sits in crates and must be sifted through, paralegal candidates can sometimes compete with people who have law degrees but who are not, for one reason or another, admitted to practice. While if you were interested in working within the public interest sector where the pay is much lower, as a paralegal within the public defender's or prosecutor's office, for example, the more basic program should be enough to get you in.
Some employers in the public sector would even pay for you to further your skills or train you in a specialized area that could be useful, as they are more likely also to be unionized jobs.
For what it's worth, I earned a law degree in mid-life. I was not a paralegal first, but an English teacher. First in my class, however, was a woman who'd been working as a paralegal for many years and who also was switching careers. Several other paralegals were also in my class. They said it was an advantage, and I'm sure they were right.
The best school is one that is convenient for you and affordably priced. I can't answer that question with any real accuracy except to tell you to make sure that any place you attend is fully accredited with your state. A degree is, of course, better than a certificate (unless you already have a college degree and are just adding credentials to change fields).
Edited by FranL on 8/25/2010 at 1:40 PM EST