I’m interested in paralegal studies. What can you tell me?
An education in paralegal studies prepares you to assist lawyers and attorneys with legal tasks. Some typical paralegal duties include conducting research, organizing evidence for trials, preparing legal documents and taking notes during meetings.
If you choose to become a paralegal, you need to understand that you will not be trained as a lawyer. Instead, you will be trained as a legal assistant who helps lawyers and attorneys to prepare for court cases and corporate meetings. That means you will have limited independence and you will generally work under the supervision of an attorney.
Many students who want to work in the legal field choose to become paralegals as an alternative to going to graduate school to become a lawyer. Paralegal studies is a good option if you do not want a lengthy and costly education, because most paralegals have an associates degree, which only takes 2 years to complete. However, you can also earn a certificate in paralegal studies, bachelors degree or masters degree.
Let’s hear some other perspectives
Carly Griffith Hotvedt
Paralegal, Based in Oklahoma
“To succeed as a paralegal, you must be committed, work hard and take extra time to learn the things that you don’t understand, while dealing with many different responsibilities in work and life.”
Student, Associate of Arts in Paralegal Studies, Western Iowa Tech Community College
“My biggest tip for other students is not to procrastinate. If you find yourself having free time, you should fill it with your schoolwork. Make sure that you are always working ahead and planning for the next week.”
What exactly is a paralegal?
Paralegals, who are also called legal assistants, are legal professionals who assist attorneys in the practice of law. They are not merely legal secretaries, because their duties include more than simple administrative tasks. For example, they conduct research, interact with clients, prepare court filings and draft important legal documents. Therefore, paralegals must be well versed in legal terminology and litigation procedures. However, paralegals are not attorneys, so they are not allowed to represent clients in court, give legal advice or sign most legal documents. Paralegals typically work for government agencies, corporate businesses and private law practices.
Let’s hear some other perspectives
Lead Paralegal Instructor, Westwood College
“If you are interested in studying to become a paralegal, you should consider it a career and not just a job.”
Student, Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies, South University
“If you are considering online legal studies, be aware that you will need to be self-motivated to do well.”
How do I know if paralegal studies would be a good fit for me?
Here is a quick quiz to help you decide if you have the personality it takes to succeed as a paralegal. Rate, on a scale from 1 to 5, how well each of the following statements describes you.
I am observant and I pay close attention to detail.
Paralegals often review and proofread legal documents before they are submitted to the court. The ability to catch mistakes or oversights will be essential if you choose to become a paralegal.
I stay calm and composed in stressful situations.
Working with lawyers and clients can be demanding at times. If you can keep a calm demeanor when your work environment is hectic or tense, you will probably be able to handle the stress of working as a paralegal.
I am organized and I can keep track of many things at the same time.
Paralegals often have tight deadlines and must work on a variety of cases simultaneously. If you have trouble focusing on your work, you may become overwhelmed by paralegal duties.
I am cooperative and I work well on a team.
[Paralegals work in teams with law professionals like lawyers, legal secretaries and other paralegals. If you do not like to work together, paralegal studies is not the ideal program for you.
I am productive when I work on my own.
[Although paralegals are generally supervised by attorneys, they are expected to use their own judgment to complete their tasks. It is essential that paralegals take initiative and be able to meet their goals independently.
Doing the right thing is important to me.
[Paralegals are required to follow an ethical code that is outlined by the National Association of Legal Assistants. In order to be a successful paralegal, you will need a high level of integrity.
I am curious about the world and I enjoy learning new things.
[Curiosity is an important trait for paralegals because they are regularly asked to conduct intensive legal research. If you have an inquisitive personality, you may enjoy paralegal work.
I communicate clearly and effectively.
Paralegals frequently present their findings to other legal professionals and write documents for the court. If you have strong verbal and writing skills, you will likely have success as a paralegal.
I respect the privacy of others and I know how to keep a secret.
Paralegals regularly have access to confidential information. If you cannot keep sensitive information to yourself, you should not work in the legal field.
I like to solve problems and puzzles.
Paralegals must have the ability to look at a legal problem from many different angles to determine the best solution. If you are willing to work hard until you discover the right answer to a problem, you will probably make a good paralegal.
*Note that this is not a scientific quiz. The result is simply my rough estimate of how well I believe your personality matches that of a successful paralegal.
By my assessment, a career as a paralegal is probably not a good fit for your personality. Please go to the Admissions Advisor homepage for a listing of other careers you may want to consider.
By my assessment, although a career as a paralegal may not be an ideal fit for your personality, if you are willing to adapt in a few areas, you can still find success in the field. Please see the list to the right for information on the areas that you may need to work on.
By my assessment, your personality is a good fit for a career as a paralegal. Scroll through our site to gain valuable insight into what it will take you to earn the necessary credentials.
Is there anything else I should consider in deciding if paralegal studies is the right choice for me?
In addition to how well your personality fits the role and tasks performed by a paralegal, you should consider your state’s definition of a paralegal.
Paralegals vs. Legal Assistants
Some confusion exists about the term legal assistant, which describes a range of legal professionals who assist attorneys. In the past, people used the titles paralegal and legal assistant interchangeably, but some states have started to define these professions differently. In these states, paralegals have evolved into a specific career, while legal assistant describes all people who support lawyers, including not just paralegals but also legal secretaries and law clerks. You should be aware that this confusion exists and check with your state to determine how it defines the paralegal profession.
What paralegal professions can I choose from?
Some of the most common careers that paralegal studies graduates can choose from include:
High school diploma; associates (2 years) recommended
Legal secretaries perform administrative tasks at law firms. They prepare messages and legal documents, like summons, complaints and subpoenas. Therefore, they need to have a solid understanding of legal terminology and procedures. Some legal secretaries also review legal journals and briefs.
High school diploma; associates (2 years) recommended
$42,450 (Lowest 10% earned less than $23,600; highest 10% earned more than $74,940)
Courts of law, judicial offices
Judicial assistants provide support to judges. They perform a variety of administrative tasks including screening phone calls, proofreading correspondence and preparing legal documents. They may also maintain files, schedule appointments and create fiscal documents like expenditure and payroll reports.
Associates (2 years)
$46,700 (Lowest 10% earned less than $29,460; highest 10% earned more than ($74, 870)
Paralegals provide a variety of support to lawyers and attorneys including conducting research and drafting documents. They often work in litigation, where their tasks include preparing legal documents, organizing information and preparing for depositions and trials. But many paralegals also work in the corporate world, where they specialize in business law and make sure that their companies obeys the law and conduct ethical business deals.
What is the job outlook for paralegals?According to the < a href="http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Legal/Paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm#tab-6">Bureau of Labor Statistics, paralegals and legal assistants will see an 18% increase in employment in the next decade, which is a little faster than the average projected growth for all occupations. In 2010, there were approximately 256,000 paralegals employed in the United States, and that number is expected to jump to more than 300,000 by 2020. Despite the demand for paralegals, this profession can be very competitive. Therefore, paralegals who have bachelors degrees will be the most competitive job applicants.
Average Salary Growth 2006 - 2011
Salary By Percentile
How long would it take me to become a paralegal?
The time it takes to become a paralegal depends on the educational path that you choose to pursue. For instance, if you choose to get an associates degree, it will take 2 years. But it will take you 4 years if you want to earn your bachelors degree. You also have the option of completing a paralegal certificate program, which will typically take 6 months to a year. However, you will find it difficult to become a paralegal with only a certificate. Most paralegals with certificates also possess associates or bachelors degrees.
What can I expect to learn while pursuing paralegal studies?
In a paralegal studies program, you will gain knowledge of the legal system and specific job skills to help you with your legal work.
Legal terminology is a specific vocabulary that legal professionals use to describe precise events, procedures and situations that relate to the law and the court system. This subject teaches how to use legal terminology in the criminal and civil litigation process as well as in written documents such as wills, contracts, loans and relationship proceedings.
Legal procedure describes the way that lawyers and paralegals approach different legal situations. From a broad perspective, it discusses the criminal justice system and the branches of lawmaking. In addition, legal procedure addresses the roles that different legal professionals play in criminal and civil court cases.
Business law surveys the laws that affect corporate operations and negotiations. It discusses topics like contracts, business ethics, corporate partnerships and the Uniform Commercial Code. In addition, it studies the government agencies that are responsible for regulating business as well as labor and employment laws.
Courses in tort law will address the rights that are held by people who have been harmed by the wrongful actions of others. Some specific issues that will be addressed include negligence, malpractice, strict liability, product liability and insurance. Tort laws also cover non-physical harm such as misrepresentation, defamation or slander.
Litigation is the set of rules that governs criminal and civil court proceedings. Criminal litigation discusses criminal procedure, including indictment, plea bargains, jury selection and trial prosecution. Civil litigation addresses topics like lawsuits, federal and state jurisdiction and the process of gathering information to be used in a trial.
Legal Research Methods
In your paralegal studies, you will be trained to conduct legal research using a variety of methods. Your research courses will teach you how to gather information from different sources, including computers, legal documents and verbal conversations. You will also learn to evaluate the information that you gather to determine its relevance to the case that you are working on.
As you study to become a paralegal, you will learn to imitate the perspective of an attorney. Your coursework will challenge you to look beyond the obvious answers to legal problems so that you can discover solutions to legal issues. You will learn to use logic and reasoning to consider many possible answers to a problem.
Time management teaches you to organize your list of tasks according to priority. In your paralegal studies program, you will learn to assess the importance of each of your duties so that you can get the most valuable work done fastest. You will also learn to plan flexibility into your schedule so that you will be able to deal with unanticipated tasks.
Clerical skills are important when you work as an assistant in an office setting. Your paralegal studies courses will teach you to perform administrative tasks like note taking, word processing and preparing legal documents. You will also be trained to use office equipment like fax machines, printers and recording devices.
As a paralegal, you will need to process a lot of written information during your research. Therefore, you will need good reading comprehension skills. Your paralegal training will teach you to read carefully by paying attention to the vocabulary and context of a document so that you can accurately determine its meaning.
What academic levels are available in the field of paralegal studies?
Paralegal studies degrees are mainly available at the undergraduate level through associates and bachelors degree programs. In addition, you can earn both undergraduate and graduate certificates in paralegal studies if you want a shorter option. Graduate-level degrees are also available, although graduate degrees are not common in this field and are not necessary for career success as a paralegal.
Select the degree level you are interested in:
If you want to become a paralegal without completing a full degree, you may want to consider earning a certificate instead. Certificate programs are shorter than degree programs because they only teach you relevant information about a given field, rather than requiring you to take general education courses.
What are the different types of certificates that I can earn in paralegal studies?
An undergraduate certificate has introductory classes in law and paralegal duties. This option is preferable if you do not have a degree and you want an introduction to the field.
A graduate certificate in paralegal studies offers advanced paralegal courses. This is the best choice if you already have an associates or bachelors degree or previous legal experience.
How long will I have to study to earn my certificate in paralegal studies?
Undergraduate paralegal studies certificates typically require students to complete 18 to 24 credit hours. Most students can earn undergraduate certificates in 6 months to a year.
Graduate certificates in paralegal studies also generally require students to complete 18 to 24 credit hours. Most students are able to earn graduate certificates in about a year.
What types of courses will I take while studying for my certificate in paralegal studies?
In a paralegal studies undergraduate certificate program, you can expect to take courses about litigation, lawsuits, corporate law and real estate law. In addition, you will take classes that train you to how to conduct legal research and to prepare documents.
You will take more advanced classes about law and paralegal studies in a graduate certificate program. For example, you are likely to take classes like legal procedure, intellectual property law, advanced legal research and writing and civil and criminal procedure.
What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a certificate in paralegal studies?
An undergraduate certificate in paralegal studies technically qualifies you to work as a paralegal. However, you should be aware that it will be difficult to get a job if you do not have at least an associates degree. Therefore, a graduate certificate in paralegal studies is considered more valuable by employers because it means that you also hold a degree.
What are the requirements for admission to a graduate certificate program in paralegal studies?
In order to be admitted to a graduate certificate program in paralegal studies, you must have educational or work experience. Specifically, you need to have an associates degree, a bachelors degree or significant employment experience in the legal or business fields.
What about getting an online certificate in paralegal studies?
If you want to earn your paralegal studies certificate online, you have a lot of options. Many schools offer online paralegal certificate programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. But you should be cautious in choosing your online paralegal studies school. You should make sure that your online paralegal studies program has quality resources that you can use as you conduct legal research, like access to online libraries and databases.
An associates degree is the most common educational path for paralegals. Some associates degrees are designed so that you can transfer into a bachelors degree program, but you will also be qualified to work in the field after you earn an associates degree.
What are the different types of associates degrees that I can earn in paralegal studies?
Associate of Arts AA
AA degrees in paralegal studies offer more liberal arts and humanities courses in addition to paralegal classes to give you a broad education. The AA degree is the best choice if you want to transfer into a bachelors degree program.
Associate of Science AS
AS degrees in paralegal studies have more science and mathematics along with paralegal courses to give you a technical background. The AS degree is a good choice if you want to transfer into a bachelors degree program or begin working right away.
Associate of Applied Science AAS
AAS degrees in paralegal studies are designed to teach applied job skills to prepare you for a career in paralegal studies. The AAS degree is the best option if you want to enter the workforce immediately after you graduate.
How long will I have to study to earn my associates degree in paralegal studies?
Associates degrees in paralegal studies usually require students to earn 60 to 70 credit hours. Most people can complete an associates degree in about 2 years.
What types of courses will I take while studying for my associates degree in paralegal studies?
If you choose to earn an associates degree in paralegal studies, you will take classes that teach you about law and administration. Some of the classes you may take include business law, legal analysis, legal procedures and ethics. Many paralegal studies programs also require you to take an internship.
What types of jobs can I hope to secure with an associates degree in paralegal studies?
An associates degree in paralegal studies qualifies you to start working in the field as an entry-level paralegal in law firms or government offices. However, more competitive positions often require bachelors degrees.
What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my associates degree in paralegal studies?
When you are looking into associates degree schools, you should check whether the programs that interest you are recognized by the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAFPE) or the American Bar Association (ABA). Both of these organizations recognize high quality paralegal programs. You can be sure that programs that have been approved by either the AAFPE or the ABA will adequately prepare you for a career as a paralegal. In addition to finding a recognized program, you should investigate the internships and training opportunities that your program offers.
What about getting an online associates degree in paralegal studies?
Many schools offer online paralegal studies associates degrees. Online paralegal studies programs are generally accepted within the legal industry. If you are considering earning your associates degree through an online paralegal studies school, you should look for programs that offer hands-on internships after you complete your online coursework. Internships and practicums are important because they give you the chance to practice the knowledge and skills that you gain through an online paralegal studies associates degree program in a real work environment, which will boost your resume and improve your job prospects. Keep in mind that the American Bar Association does not recognize programs that are solely online.
Although an associates degree is the most common degree path for paralegals, you can also earn a bachelors degree in paralegal studies. A bachelors degree will improve your job opportunities and help you to stand out in the competitive job market.
What are the different types of bachelors degrees that I can earn in paralegal studies?
Bachelor of Arts BA
A BA in paralegal studies has more liberal arts classes, so you will explore other disciplines as well. The BA degree is a good option if you want to be a paralegal, but keep in mind that it is very similar to the BS.
Bachelor of Science BS
A BS in paralegal studies offers more science and mathematics courses so you will spend more time learning research methods. The BS offers basically the same program as the BA, so it is also a good choice if you want to work as a paralegal.
How long will I have to study to earn my bachelors degree in paralegal studies?
Bachelors degrees in paralegal studies usually require students to complete 120 to 130 credit hours. Most students can earn a bachelors degree in about 4 years.
What types of courses will I take while studying for my bachelors degree in paralegal studies?
If you earn a bachelors degree in paralegal studies, you will take a variety of classes that are designed to teach you about law and its practical applications. For example, you can expect to take classes in business law, civil and criminal litigation, legal research and legal procedures. Some programs also allow you to concentrate on a specific area of paralegal studies, like real estate, litigation, health law or corporate law. In addition, some paralegal studies programs require students to complete internships.
What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a bachelors degree in paralegal studies?
Even though you can get a job in the paralegal profession with only an associates degree, earning your bachelors will increase your professional opportunities. And if you choose a specific focus in your bachelors degree program, you can train to be a specialized paralegal. With focused training, you can work in many specific jobs, including as a real estate paralegal, corporate paralegal or litigation paralegal.
What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my bachelors degree in paralegal studies?
When you are looking for a paralegal studies school, you should consider its internship opportunities and whether it is associated with any professional organizations. First, you should
make sure that your program gives you hands-on training through an internship or practicum. If it does, you can be sure that you will gain the legal training and professional skills that you will need to succeed as a paralegal. Second, you should investigate whether your program is recognized by either the American Bar Association or the American Association for Paralegal Education. If your program is recognized by either of these organizations, you can be sure that your degree will be respected in your field.
What about getting an online bachelors degree in paralegal studies?
Earning a paralegal studies bachelors degree online is acceptable in this field. In fact, several prestigious schools offer online paralegal studies bachelors degrees. But if you are thinking about pursuing an online paralegal studies program, you should look for schools that offer internships after you have completed your coursework. Internships are beneficial because they will help you to put the theoretical knowledge that you have gained in your paralegal studies bachelors degree online into a hands-on environment. The American Bar Association does not recognize fully online paralegal programs.
A few schools offer masters degrees in paralegal studies, but this level of education is not recommended. You do not need to earn a masters degree to be successful as a paralegal. Instead, you should focus on earning a good reputation during your undergraduate internship, because job experience is often the most influential factor in hiring and promotion.
What else should I keep in mind when considering pursuing paralegal studies?
Remember that earning a paralegal studies degree or certificate does not make you a certified paralegal. So, after you earn your paralegal studies degree or certificate, you may want to earn professional certifications.
Although you do not need a license to become a paralegal, several professional organizations offer nationally recognized certification programs. These programs will give you more professional credibility, which may help you in your job search. Some of the major organizations that offer paralegal certification include:
- NALA: The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) issues professional certification as a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or a Certified Paralegal (CP). This certification requires you to pay a fee and pass a test. Certifications from NALA must be renewed every 5 years. NALA also offers advanced certifications in specific areas of law.
- NFPA: The National Federation of Paralegal Associations issues professional certification as a CORE Registered Paralegal (CRP) for entry-level or early-career paralegals, or Registered Paralegal (RP) for experienced paralegals. Both certifications require you pass the Paralegal Core Competency Exam and pay a fee. Certifications from NFPA must be renewed every 2 years.
- NALS: NALS is known as “the association for legal professionals” issues professional certification as a Professional Paralegal (PP). This certification requires you to pay a fee and pass a test. Certifications from NALS must be renewed every 5 years.
- AAPI: The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. offers a professional paralegal certification as an American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) based on your education and work experience. There is a fee for this certification, but you do not have to take a test.
In addition to the nationally recognized certifications listed above, individual states may offer additional certification options. You can check with your state’s bar association or paralegal association for additional options.
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