The legal field is always in need of professional paralegals to support the work of lawyers, and the need continues to grow. Earn your online paralegal certificate to enter this prolific career field.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for paralegals is expected to increase 15% between 2016 and 2026, much higher than the average.
While there is no specific education requirement to work as a legal assistant or paralegal, but to be ahead of the competition and to prove that you understand the fundamentals of working in law, a degree is prudent.
View some of our favorite online paralegal certificate programs below.
Become a Paralegal
For many people, an online paralegal certificate is the quickest and easiest way to become competitive for jobs in the legal field. With a high school diploma, and in some cases, not even that, you can begin training to have the skills and knowledge to make you an asset to any legal department. Some people may choose to take an online paralegal studies certificate program after an associate or bachelor’s degree in another subject to better prepare them for law office work.
Many employers prefer to hire applicants with a bachelor’s degree but adding a paralegal certificate on to the bachelor’s degree makes candidates especially appealing hires. For a lucky few who have already gotten a job working in a law office, an online paralegal program can give them a certificate that will allow them to advance their career right where they are working, taking on more complex tasks to assist lawyers in all types of matters. While working, whether in a legal department or any other profession, taking an online paralegal certificate course is a great way to move towards higher paying jobs in law.
Legal assistants and paralegals work in many types of environments: law firms, corporate legal offices, and government agencies. The median salary for paralegals in 2017 was $50,410 per year. This is much higher than the average salary figures for secretaries and office workers, who do many similar tasks, but without the specialized knowledge and capabilities of a paralegal. Paralegals help law firms cut down on costs, as paralegals can do much of the support work for lawyers that is beyond basic secretarial tasks, and this accounts for the rosy outlook on job growth in this profession.
Online Paralegal Programs
One of the great advantages of online paralegal training is that it is almost always 100% online, meaning that you have no on-campus requirements. A few programs have hybrid online/classroom options, for those who would like to spend some of their time in a physical classroom. For online classes, some synchronous group sessions may be required, but most programs are primarily or fully asynchronous, meaning that you can access the material at any time during the week. This can be especially convenient to fit around a job or family responsibilities.
Programs will vary slightly in length from about one year to almost two years, depending on the schedule of the program and your own time to devote to learning. Many programs have a set order of basic courses you must follow to get your degree, but you may have the option to choose one or more electives in specialty areas of law that interest you.
Some programs allow you to move at your own pace, completing the program in a condensed amount of time or going more slowly to accommodate the rest of your life. The time required to complete work for the courses can vary from school to school, but a good rule of thumb is that for a 3-credit course, you will spend about nine hours per week—three hours accessing class materials online, and five to six hours studying or completing assignments on your own.
Basic courses in all programs will cover the legal system, research for law, writing and communication, litigation and procedures, document preparation, ethics in law offices, and more. Some programs will include real estate law, family law, criminal law, or other special areas in their basic curriculum, while other programs will have these and other areas as elective options.
The primary competencies that are taught in paralegal education are communication and interpersonal skills, technologies for the legal field, organizational and research skills, and the knowledge to assist attorneys within the legal system of the United States. Paralegal programs will orient students to the work that will be required of them as legal assistants: researching facts and laws for cases, organizing and filing documents, writing reports and correspondence, supporting lawyers in cases, and communicating with clients, courts and others.
A Note on ABA Accreditation
The American Bar Association (ABA) approves certain paralegal programs, and when you are looking at online training to become a legal assistant, it is great to look for ABA approved curriculum. This can give your certificate more credibility when you go to look for a job. The refers to paralegals alternately as legal assistants, so the job titles are interchangeable in most cases. As the largest and most credible association for lawyers, the ABA is the most powerful organization in the legal profession. Unfortunately, as of 2018, the ABA does not accredit any 100% online paralegal programs of any degree level.
However, don’t despair! Though the ABA is the national association for the legal profession, each state has its own requirements for lawyers and sometimes paralegals and many do not require an ABA-accredited program. In most states, paralegals have their own state professional organization that offer voluntary licensing or certification.
Paralegals work under the direct supervision of lawyers who are members of their bar associations, and paralegals do not usually need to get a specific license. Although legal assistants take on many very important duties, they work with highly trained lawyers who can guide them and are responsible for the legal actions within their practice; therefore, very few mandatory laws exist to regulate legal assistants.
There are certification exams available for paralegals that are also voluntary. Though not required to work as a paralegal, having passed an exam can be a sign of competence that will make a job candidate a more attractive hire. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers a national exam to test skills and knowledge that will allow a legal assistant to be a Certified Paralegal.
There is also a Paralegal CORE Competency Exam offered through the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) which tests similar areas. Either of these exams can be voluntarily undertaken by a person seeking employment as a paralegal, but it is not at all required.
Top 14 Online Paralegal Certificate Programs
Education is the first step in gaining a well-paying job as a paralegal, so let’s look at paralegal studies programs that you can take online.
1. Rasmussen College
Rasmussen College offers an online paralegal certificate program that can be completed in as little as 12 months, fully online or in a blended format. Flex Choice® self-directed assessment courses are an option to accelerate your program based on your knowledge—you can progress at your own pace, more quickly with information you are familiar with, and taking more time on unfamiliar course content. Entrance requires an associate or bachelor’s degree, and the certificate includes 61 credits of work. Four of the courses are in general education, 11 in legal studies, and there is the choice of either an internship or capstone project to complete the program. You can also prepare to take a certification exam at no additional cost. Employment options after the program include the areas of healthcare, insurance, law enforcement, public health, social services, and state government.
2. University of Massachusetts Lowell
The Online Certificate Program in Paralegal Studies at U-Mass-Lowell allows students to go at their own pace, taking one or two courses per semester. There are three semesters per year: Fall, Spring, and Summer, plus some courses are also offered in an intensive 2-week on-campus winter intersession. There are four required courses and two electives in this certificate program, and students who wish to continue after the certificate can apply all credits to a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or liberal arts. There is no application fee for this program. Students must maintain a 2.0 GPA in the program to receive the certificate, which takes approximately 18 months.
3. Post University
The Online Professional Certificate in Paralegal Studies at Post University prepares students to take up jobs in banks, insurance, real estate, private or corporate law offices, or government legal offices. The program comprises 30-33 credits, offers some accelerated courses, and is designed to be completed in as little as one year, though most students take more time in this program. The program focuses on student’s professional communication, organizational, and technology skills, while also enhancing ethical awareness and teamwork in legal services. One-on-one faculty attention is part of the program and students are also assigned a faculty advisor to assure their success. The curriculum was designed with input from attorneys, and includes research, document preparation, client interaction, and basics of testimony, interrogations, and depositions.
4. American Public University System
American Public University System’s online certificate in paralegal studies is completely online which is convenient for working adults. This online university partners with industry organizations to verify that the curriculum meets market needs. Areas taught include: attorney-paralegal communication, trial preparation, research, legal document preparation, and investigation. Very low tuition, discounts for military members and veterans, and credit for prior experience are some of the benefits of online programs at APUS. Course materials such as textbooks, are available for free online for undergraduate courses to save even more money. Application for the program is free. This program provides a good foundation education, and includes work on writing, legal theory and terminology.
5. Lake Superior College
The online certificate program in paralegal studies at Lake Superior College can be completed in a year. Designed to prepare students to become non-lawyer legal professionals, this 30-credit program can be applied towards the associate degree in paralegal studies if students wish to continue their education. Prerequisite to the program is a certain skill level in English reading and comprehension. Instruction in legal software, terminology, documents, and research are part of the program. Additionally, the program covers state and federal court systems, procedural and substantive law, and client interaction. For Minnesota residents, tuition is very affordable, while out-of-state students will pay more in this program. Most courses are required, with just one elective course in this comprehensive basic program.
6. Liberty University
Liberty University’s online Undergraduate Certificate in Paralegal Studies has eight-week classes, eight start dates per year, and is completed in an average of one year. With free online textbooks for all its courses, and military tuition discounts, this program is affordable and very flexible. This nonprofit Christian school offers the possibility of completing the program in as little as two semesters. No transfer credits are allowed in the 18-credit hour certificate program and it is 100% online. Requirements for admission include a high school self-certification form, a 2.0 GPA on any previous college courses, and proof of English proficiency. This fast-track option to enter the legal field allows working adults to continue their education while attending to family and work commitments.
7. Duke University
Duke University’s online paralegal certificate program is geared towards people looking to change careers. Admission requires an associate or bachelor’s degree, English fluency, and internet skills/access. This is a 300-hour program (not 300 credits!) that includes 156 hours of essential skills for a paralegal—evidence, research, pleadings, motions, writing, courts and technology. Plus the program has 144 hours of electives in two of the four special areas offered: contract, tort, criminal, or business law. Students learn how to create and manipulate legal documents, and instructors can even help with specific state legal documents anywhere in the US. The program is self-paced and must be completed within one year, though extensions are sometimes granted. This is a non-credit certificate program, so the coursework does not count towards any degree program. Applications are accepted year-round.
8. Florida International University
The career-focused online paralegal certificate program at FIU operates on the trimester system and can be completed in one year completely online. The curriculum is based on National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the American Association for Paralegal Education recommendations. The program starts in August, but training is broken up into three different segments with students studying four different topics in each trimester. Courses in the program are approved by the FIU Law School and the program prepares students to take the NALA certification examination. The program is eligible for financial aid and there is a $25 application fee.
9. Franklin Pierce University
Franklin Pierce University’s 100% online certificate in paralegal studies is designed to prepare students to take the national certification exam for paralegals. This 30-credit undergraduate certificate program gives a foundation in theoretical as well as practical legal issues. There are ten courses in the program that students need to successfully complete to receive the certificate, including Microcomputer Applications, Legal Analysis, Tort Law, Probate Law, Litigation, Real Estate Law, Corporate Law, Family Law and Criminal Law. The university partners with the military, so military members, spouses and family members should check on assistance. There are three terms during the school year plus two summer sessions. Online application is free.
10. Northwest Mississippi Community College
The 30-credit online certificate in paralegal studies at Northwest Mississippi Community College is a new program built out of the online associate degree in paralegal technology. The program emphasizes practical application in areas of law such as real property, family, and trust and estate law. The certificate can be completed in as little as 12 months. As courses are drawn from the degree program, students who think they may wish to continue past the certificate may find this program a good choice. In-state tuition is very reasonable, and out-of-state students will pay a bit less than double the tuition of residents of Mississippi.
11. Hinds Community College
Hinds Community College is an associate degree granting institution in Mississippi that offers a three-tiered paralegal education, including the online certificate in paralegal technology. The 30-credit certificate program is called a career certificate, while students who continue may qualify for the technical certificate or the associate degree. Included in the subjects taught are research, writing, family law, wills and estates, litigation, torts, and contracts. Designed to provide entry-level education for those seeking to work in courts, law offices, government, or corporations, this program is very affordable for in-state students, while out-of-state students will pay about double the tuition. The college has an office of veteran’s affairs available to assist veterans and dependents in applying for educational benefits.
12. Ocean County College
The Certificate in Proficiency in Paralegal Studies from Ocean County College prepare students to work in law offices or other legal environments, or to increase skills for those who already work in the legal field. Students complete nine courses in foundational legal subjects, and then choose two elective courses in area of specialty including: accounting, communications, management, real estate law, criminal law, mediation, and psychology. Tuition for this community college is very low, making this a great choice for the budget-conscious student. Students without a high school diploma can be considered for this program, though financial aid may be dependent on having a GED. All the courses in this program can transfer to the associate degree program in paralegal studies for those who wish to continue their education.
Start Exploring Online Paralegal Certificate Programs Today!
The legal field is an exciting place to work, no matter where you start. Every paralegal will learn new things every day as they research cases to support lawyers in their work. Getting the core education to begin a career as a legal assistant can be done completely online, from the comfort of your own home. What a great way to get started in a field with the potential for increasing responsibility, interesting cases, and a fulfilling career as a paralegal.