Do you want to work in the legal profession, but you have no desire to become a lawyer? Are you organized, efficient, and can handle working under the pressure of a deadline? Do you thrive in being someone’s right hand person that they know they can count on for any sort of task? If these questions sound like you were just described, then a career as a paralegal is sure to be professionally fulfilling to you. As a paralegal (sometimes also called paralegal assistants) you will primarily work alongside lawyers to help them prepare any legal business or to prepare for court proceedings. It is important to note that while a paralegal cannot offer legal advice or present a case in court, they are responsible for much of the case preparation and research that is conducted. Generally speaking, paralegals work to assist a lawyer with everyday office tasks, which will require that they have a good understanding of the type of law that their boss practices. It is most common for individuals who want to work as a paralegal to pursue an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree program.
An associate’s degree program is the most common educational choice for individuals who want to become a paralegal. This two year degree program will contain coursework such as property law, bankruptcy, legal research, family law, civil litigation, and administrative law. Keep in mind, in an associate’s degree program you will also be required to complete general education classes. Should you decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree program you can expect it to take you about four years to complete. The coursework in this degree program, which will be similar to that of an associate’s program, will likely consist of classes like: ethics for the law office, litigation, supervisory management, legal writing, cyber laws, torts, and criminal law and procedures.
In addition, this degree program will probably require you to complete an internship. This will provide you the chance to apply the skills and knowledge that you have learned in the classroom into a real world setting while being supervised by a mentor. Take a few minutes and look over the schools that are shown on our site. If you see any that particularly appeal to you, feel free to request that they send you a complimentary information packet detailing what they have to offer you. With some level of formal training to work as a paralegal, you may also be able to find employment as a legal secretary or a legal transcriptionist. Find your new paralegal college below.
Paralegals are people who perform legal work delegated to them from a lawyer, who has the ultimate responsibility for the work. They perform many tasks, including organizing and maintaining files, conducting legal research, drafting documents, organizing and presenting information, helping lawyers in trials and writing reports in preparation for trials. Paralegals are also responsible for keeping case-related information in computer databases, drafting documents like contracts, mortgages and correspondence, investigating facts in cases and obtaining affidavits and formal statements that may be used in court as evidence. These professionals do not usually handle cases from start to end. Rather, they work in specific phases of cases. Paralegals do not often attend trials, but they may prepare trial documents or settlement agreements.
Paralegal Work in the Age of Technology
Many law firms use technology and computer software increasingly, when they prepare for trials and when managing their documents. Paralegals use software for drafting and indexing documents and for preparing presentations. Paralegals need to be up-to-date on the most recent software utilized for electronic discovery and be familiar with managing the electronic database of the companies for whom they work. Electronic discovery includes all electronic materials related to trials, like websites, documents, accounting databases, emails and other data. Paralegals may assume additional responsibilities if they specialize in different areas. Some of those may include family law, real estate law, immigration, bankruptcy, intellectual property, employee benefits, personal injury, litigation and corporate law. Paralegals can take supervisory responsibilities as well, like overseeing teams working on projects or delegating work to another paralegal.
Where do Paralegals Work?
You can see paralegals in many types of organizations, but most of them work for the legal departments of corporations, law firms or government agencies. They are generally full-time employees, and may be employed either year-round or during companies’ busiest times of the year. When paralegals are employed by law firms, they may have to work overtime, in order to meet the companies’ deadlines. Paralegals may travel for information gathering and other tasks, but they usually work in law libraries and offices.
What are the differences between paralegals and law clerks?
Paralegals work under the guidance of lawyers, and assist with legal responsibilities. They may help in preparing cases, and in handling many administrative tasks that are involved with the pursuit of claims, in addition to executing orders from lawyers and conducting research for cases. Training programs for paralegals usually offer classes resembling those in the first two years of law school. Law clerks are legal professionals who work for lawyers, or, more likely, judges. They help in researching and determining legal options for cases. Law clerks usually have already completed law school, and are getting their start as law clerks. Law students enter intense competition for summer positions as law clerks. That’s because many law firms use those workers to fill future job openings for lawyers. If a student is serious about schooling to become a paralegal, it’s a good idea to specialize in a growing, healthy area of the law. The areas in most demand today are trusts and estates, immigration, intellectual property, real estate, corporate law and litigation. Working in the paralegal field is an excellent way for students to determine if they would eventually like to become a lawyer.
One-Year Certificate or Diploma
Many corporations and law firms will require their paralegals to complete a certificate paralegal studies program before they are hired. A certificate program will be an economical and time-effective way to become a paralegal. It requires between 20 and 60 credits, usually taking one or two years for completion. While many students choose schools with short-term programs available, to save time and money, they must consider the typical education level required in a specific job market in which they plan to work. Students can speak with local paralegals and attorneys to determine if the certificate program will be suitable for them.
Two-Year Associate’s Degree
Some law firms will not hire paralegals unless they have at least a paralegal studies associate’s degree. Associate’s degree programs generally require a GED or diploma from high school, and they take about two years for completion. The programs usually include 60 semester earned credits or 90 quarter earned credits. Degrees earned may be in an Associate of Science (AS) in Paralegal Studies or an Associate of Applied Studies (AAS) in Paralegal Studies. Associate’s degrees in Paralegal Studies usually focus on practical training that will teach students the law basics and terminology used. Students are taught they ways in which they can conduct investigative interviews and legal research, file law documents and write reports.
There are bachelor’s degrees offered in online paralegal studies. They usually run for three or sometimes four years. There may be requirements in programs, typically including a GED or high school diploma and a minimum GPA. The degrees available are the Bachelor of Science in Legal Assistant/Paralegal Studies (BLA), a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Paralegal Studies or a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Paralegal Studies. These degrees consist of between 120 and 130 semester credits. One-half of these are mainly general education, and the other half are specific to the paralegal field.
More schools today are offering online advanced level degrees in the area of paralegal studies. An online delivery format allows students to master course materials from anywhere in the world. This saves them the expense and time of attending classes on campus, and in living on campus or commuting to and from a campus location. The degrees earned are known as a Master of Science (MS) in Paralegal Studies or a Master of Arts (MA) in Legal Studies. Programs at Master’s level are quite often designed mainly for students who have some experience within the field already, and who wish to focus their course studies in one area of law or advance their career. It provides the students with a broader, more general understanding of the way the legal system works and how citizens can learn to assert their legal rights.
Paralegal Internships and Externships: Legal externships, if they are completed, are generally scheduled near the end of the Master’s Degree program, which gives students a chance to apply the things they learned online in their coursework. In some cases, students may be retained and hired on after successful externships. Even if this doesn’t occur, students will gain valuable experience in the real world of the law and it will look impressive on their resume.
Corporate Paralegal: Corporate paralegals are specialists in all the main aspects of corporate law. This includes monitoring companies’ compliance with federal and state statutes, aiding corporations filing and defending the companies in court against lawsuits. Some of the areas of corporate law where a corporate paralegal may work are mergers, acquisitions, employment law, tax law and patent law. With federal, state and local statutes to work with, corporations are always in need of paralegals and lawyers who are knowledgeable in these fields. In some cases, corporate law requires corporations to obtain counsel or advice from lawyers who act as third parties. Due to this structure, corporate paralegals have more job security.
Bankruptcy Paralegal: Bankruptcy paralegals must be experts in the field of bankruptcy law, which is always evolving, yet arcane. Since businesses and individuals can both declare bankruptcy, and the laws applying to each are different, paralegals in this field may declare a subspecialty in one or the other. Bankruptcy paralegals spend a lot of time working on paperwork, and collecting necessary documents. This may involve forensic accounting or research. Bankruptcy paralegals are almost always busy, since there is so much filing and paperwork that go along with the proceedings.
There may be nothing quite as complicated as US immigration law. There are various routes to visas, legal immigration and eventual citizenship. Dedicated lawyers and paralegals who are thoroughly knowledgeable in immigration law are needed to help individuals who are immigrating to the United States. They are also needed to enforce the law on behalf of the government. Fast-paced changes in immigration law are rapidly occurring in many states, and immigration paralegals are needed even more now, since they have expertise in issues dealing with immigration. Unlike the rules in other areas of paralegal practice, immigrations paralegals can directly participate in strategy sessions, with their attorneys supervising. This adds another learning dimension to the specialty.
Criminal Law Paralegal: Paralegals who specialize in criminal law focus on the processes and laws that are applicable in criminal proceedings. Criminal law paralegals may work for a prosecutor or a judge. On the other side, they may work with prosecuting attorneys. In both of these cases, criminal law paralegals usually choose a focus in just one area of the law, like drug crimes, violent crimes or financial crimes. This is helpful for experienced paralegals, since they can excel in assisting their employers who are prosecuting cases or defending the accused. Many criminal lawyers prefer to focus on just one area of criminal law.
Personal Injury Paralegal: Personal injury paralegals must focus on tort law. This is the area of law that deals with wrongs that have been done by a corporation or a person against other people or their property. Tort does not, by its definition, encompass crimes normally prosecuted by government entities, like assault, but it can encompass crimes like that if a victim brings a civil case against the person who assaulted them.
Litigation Paralegal: Litigation paralegals are an important part of the legal system. They specialize in the forms, procedures and rules of federal, state or local courts. They help attorneys to remain abreast of laws and their interpretation, and they understand the requirements of motions and filings in those courts. The work of litigation paralegals allows the attorneys to focus only on their cases, while the paralegal handles the filings and deadlines.
How healthy is the market for paralegals?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay for paralegals in 2016 was $49,500 per year. There were approximately 279,500 workers in this field in 2014, and the number is expected to rise by eight percent between 2014 and 2024. This will mean the addition of about 21,200 new jobs, or new graduates replacing paralegals who are retiring. The paralegal occupation attracts a great many applicants, and there is strong competition for jobs. Formally trained, experienced paralegals with strong database management and computer skills will have the best chance at the highest paying positions.
Online Associate Degrees in Paralegal Studies
Many students start their career as paralegals with associate degree programs in paralegal studies or other law-related fields. Associate degree options often include internships, and students will receive supervised training from law office personnel and experienced lawyers. Students today, more than ever, are choosing to complete their paralegal studies degrees online. Students who learn on the web follow the same curriculum as those who attend school on-campus, which means that their job opportunities after graduation are comparable. The self-paced structure of online paralegal study programs is ideal for students who have child care responsibilities, part time jobs or other commitments that can interfere with learning on-campus.
Associate degree programs in paralegal studies are designed to help students develop the skills and knowledge they need to assist lawyers effectively and efficiently. The curriculum teaches all of the essentials, from conducting research to drafting legal documents, working with clients and assisting in court.
Tort/ Personal Injury Law: Tort or personal injury law is an important body in US law, because it governs the interactions between people that occur every day. This course provides students with a broad understanding of laws that deal with civil wrongs and their remedies.
Contract Law: This is a significant part of a paralegal program because it governs commitments people make to each other. It provides students the ability to understand the common laws of contracts, from their formation through their termination.
Legal Research, Writing & Civil Litigation: This is the area in which attorneys most rely on their skilled paralegals. This course helps students to understand the major aspects of civil litigation, whether they are looking from the point of view of the plaintiff or the defendant.
Professional Responsibility & Legal Ethics: This course covers the principles that govern ethical practice of law for paralegals and lawyers alike. It also equips students with the tools they need to identify and resolve ethical problems, while giving practical tips that can be implemented in practice.
According to the National Association of Legal Assistants and Paralegals (NALA) paralegals with an associate’s degree earned an average salary in 2012 of $53,399 per year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment growth for associate degree-holding paralegals is stable. This is largely due to employers increasingly relying on paralegals to handle a great number of the tasks that were once completed by lawyers.
The paralegal career is enticing for many students interested in the law. However, many do not have the money or time to earn a law degree. Taking bachelor’s degree classes online puts students in better positions to land good jobs after they graduate. Online colleges work very well for working adults, as well as parents who want to reach their educational goals. The objective of a Bachelor’s degree program in paralegal studies is providing students with a broad range of subjects. The courses give students a firm foundation in economics and business, and expose them to career-oriented skills and advanced legal topics. When students complete this type of program, they will be well-qualified to be hired as paralegals by law firms, corporations, non-profit organizations and government agencies. They will also be more prepared to move on to graduate study. The approximate time needed to complete a bachelor’s degree will vary with the depth of the students’ load of courses.
Career Outlook for Graduates of Bachelor's Degree Programs in Paralegal Studies
A NALA study in 2015 on salaries for paralegals found that those with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $55,188. This is a larger amount than the average on the Bureau of Labor and Statistics study, which is based on the average salary of paralegals after all levels of schooling. Corporations and law firms are also trying to reduce their overall costs. To lower the rates they bill to clients, they are choosing paralegals as a lower cost alternative to performing some tasks formerly done by the lawyers themselves, including entry-level lawyers. This is expected to lead to an increase in the demand for paralegals.
Students may earn master’s degrees in paralegal studies if they already have a bachelor’s degree. Most students are able to complete the coursework for a master’s degree in one or two years of paralegal study courses. If students possess work experience or education already, they may choose to earn a master’s degree so that they can specialize into a specific law area, or move into management positions. Management and specialization allow paralegals to perform work at higher levels within their firm, with a salary that is commensurate with their new job requirements. Master’s degrees can be useful, too, for students who want to pursue academic paralegal careers, like teaching in paralegal studies programs. Some students, especially those who have already earned bachelor’s degrees in fields other than paralegal studies, may plan to earn their master’s degrees. The job market in paralegals is competitive, so a master’s degree helps job candidates to stand out from other applicants.
Career Outlook for Graduates of Master's Degree Programs in Paralegal Studies
In a NALA study, paralegals with a master's degree reported the highest median salary, at $62,203 per year. CNN Money ranks the paralegal as among the best 20 jobs in America. There are differences in job availability and salaries in various regions of the United States. Opportunities are plentiful in the paralegal field. A healthy legal market and job attrition contribute to job growth potential. Because of the rising cost of legal fees, clients are requesting paralegals for many tasks, rather than paying for the higher-cost attorneys, when this is possible. Due to increasing caseloads, lawyers are encouraged to delegate some tasks they used to perform themselves to their staff, which creates more paralegal opportunities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an eight percent growth in the paralegal field between 2014 and 2024. As corporations and law firms attempt to increase their efficiency and reduce costs, they can be expected to employ more paralegals. In cases like these, paralegals sometimes take on hybrid roles within their employers’ firms, performing traditional paralegal duties as well as some tasks previously assigned to lawyers, legal support workers and legal secretaries.