Searching for accelerated paralegal programs? Get the training you need online in less time!
If you’re hoping to become a paralegal, you might be surprised to know that a bachelor’s degree isn’t required.
In fact, you may be able to become a paralegal without any completed degree at all.
What exactly does a paralegal do on a given day?
The primary role of a paralegal is to assist attorneys in doing their jobs efficiently and ethically. Paralegals must possess strong communication, writing and research skills. They must also be detail-oriented, self-motivated and organized. A successful paralegal must also be able to handle deadlines and urgent demands with ease and sensibility.
According to Frankly Legal, employers are looking for all of the above categories in potential paralegals. They are also looking for experience in the field and recommendations from former employers or advisors/mentors. Depending on your experience and prior contact with the legal field, one of the following paths to becoming a paralegal should accommodate your individual situation.
Paralegals are in charge of a variety of duties, including writing briefs and reports, conducting legal research, and organizing witness interviews and depositions. Whatever the lead attorney needs the paralegal to do, that’s what he/she will be assigned to do. Paralegals move from the office to the courtroom to assist attorneys, so paralegal work can be very mobile and demanding.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, paralegals make about $47,000 per year, which is about on par with the national average of household income. The field is growing faster than average at 17 percent, so there is opportunity to secure a rewarding career. BLS also reports that paralegals are sometimes required to work overtime in order to meet demands. Because of this, the hours of a paralegal may not be as flexible as other career fields.
Accelerated Paralegal Programs
There are multiple routes to becoming a practicing paralegal, from an online associate degree to a paralegal bachelor degree online to diploma and certificate programs and courses.
Associate in Paralegal Studies
An associate degree is typically a two year degree that prepares you to enter a job much quicker than a bachelor’s degree would. Because it’s not as rigorous as a bachelor’s degree, an associate degree usually trains you for lower level positions with the possibility of completing a bachelor’s degree in the future.
You can earn either an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree, an Associate of Science (A.S.) degree, or an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in Paralegal or Legal Studies. The difference usually means nothing and is at the discretion of the program to decide what to name the degree it offers. Either way, you’ll get the basic training you need to be successful as a paralegal.
Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies
In contrast to the two year training degree program of an associate degree, a paralegal bachelor degree online program usually takes about four years to complete and is more comprehensive. Just like with the associate degree programs, bachelor’s degree programs will offer either a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degree.
Because a bachelor’s degree takes longer to complete, you’ll gain more experiencing writing mock trial briefs, conducting legal research, and acquiring the skills you’ll need to be an effective paralegal. You may also have more opportunities through a bachelor’s degree program to intern with law firms or shadow a paralegal or attorney for a certain period of time.
One of the primary advantages of choosing a bachelor’s degree over an associate degree is the potential to continue on to law school. Law school will require the completion of a bachelor’s degree for application, so if you have a desire to one day become an attorney, consider pursuing a paralegal bachelor degree online rather than an associate degree online. It’ll put you in a much better position to apply to law school in the future.
Paralegal Diploma and Certificate Programs
Online diploma and certificate programs are different from both paralegal associate degree online programs and paralegal bachelor degree online programs. These programs will prepare you to become a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or Certified Paralegal (CP) through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).
These online programs prepare you to take and pass the CLA/CP exam. Some of these certification or diploma courses only require a high school diploma or GED to get started. Many require an associate or bachelor’s degree (in any subject), computer competency, and/or English fluency. Paralegal certificate courses are intensive courses that last about a year or less. The cost of these programs varies greatly, but students can expect to pay anywhere from the $1,000 to $7,000 range for the entire course, including books and other materials. Some programs cost more than this estimate and some cost less.
Certificate courses are usually module-based courses, meaning students complete modules or sections at their own pace. They are assessed at the end of each module before moving on to the next. A common procedure is that students are paired with instructors (practicing attorneys or instructors with law experience) that serve as graders and mentors. Even though these certificate programs are courses, students won’t really be in a class with others like they might in a paralegal bachelor degree online program.
At the completion of the various assessments (which include demonstration of knowledge and intensive writing activities), students will be prepared to take the CLA/CP exam and become certified paralegals. Paralegal certification is not mandatory in the United States, but rather a voluntary way to demonstrate paralegal proficiency (similar to an accountant electing to become a CPA). This certification can look impressive on a resume and convey to an employer that you’re serious about your role as a paralegal.
Other Career Paths
Training to become a paralegal can also prepare you for other potential careers in the field of law and related fields. If you obtain a degree in Paralegal Studies, becoming a paralegal is not your only career option. A paralegal associate degree online or a paralegal bachelor degree online can give you the necessary training to become a law clerk, a claims adjuster or an occupational specialist, among other related professions. If for some reason becoming a paralegal doesn’t work out, you won’t have wasted your investment in the training it took to get there.