Paralegals are a vital part of the legal profession, and most times, they work hand-in-hand with solicitors and lawyers. Apart from some special activities for solicitors, paralegals are trained to perform various roles and can slot into different industries like entertainment, media, government, and even fashion. While many paralegals attend regular schools to complete their programs, online paralegal programs are becoming more popular and a great alternative to earning a degree.
If you’re considering a paralegal career, then there’s no better time than now to kickstart your journey. Just in case you need any more motivation, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that paralegals earned an average of $52,920 in 2020, and that’s not all. The demand for paralegals is increasing, and BLS projects a 12% increment in paralegal jobs between 2020 and 2030.
Additionally, paralegals have a large pool of career choices to choose from due to the broad legal profession. Although this is one of the benefits of becoming a paralegal, it can be unclear to many. And that’s why we have compiled this guide on the steps you need to become a paralegal, the duties, and some excellent online paralegal programs.
What Is A Paralegal?
A paralegal is a trained legal science professional who is not a qualified lawyer but is knowledgeable about legal matters and the law and can carry out substantive legal duties.
Paralegals generally work in the administrative sector of a legal team. They support chartered legal executives, solicitors, barristers, and many paralegals specializing in a specific area of law.
Duties of a Paralegal
Paralegals are an essential part of a legal team. The principal aim of a paralegal is to support or assist attorneys. In light of this, the role of a paralegal differs from one workplace to another, and they may carry out different tasks based on their specialty. For example, a paralegal working for an attorney who frequents the courtroom will likely be more involved with preparing motions and pleadings, investigating case facts, and generally helping attorneys during a trial.
On the other hand, a paralegal working with an attorney who doesn’t frequent the courtroom will spend more time cataloging and reviewing documents, drafting correspondence, and other legal documents like mortgages and contracts.
The duties of paralegals are also largely dependent on the size of the legal firm where they work. Small law firms typically have only one paralegal to assist the attorneys, while large firms employ more paralegals, each assigned a specific role. In comparison, paralegals working at smaller firms have to take in a wider variety of duties out of necessity.
The amount of contact a paralegal has with clients also depends on the area of specialization. Despite the many roles and responsibilities of paralegals, there are specific tasks that they are prohibited from undertaking. Paralegals are generally restricted from doing anything deemed as “practicing law.” Some of the restricted duties include;
- Representing clients
- Accepting clients’ cases
- Determining legal fees
- Providing legal advice
These are all outside a paralegal’s jurisdiction and can only be executed by a practicing attorney.
How To Become A Paralegal
There are no set rules on the route to becoming a paralegal. However, to maintain uniformity, some national paralegal bodies have come together to develop a framework for paralegal practice. Below we’ve listed the steps to gain the core competencies you need in your journey to becoming a paralegal.
1. Satisfy Paralegal Education Requirements
Since paralegals are not certified at the national level, there are no federal guidelines for the profession. However, several states regulate paralegals, and some professional bodies also offer paralegal certification.
The American Bar Association (ABA) states that the paralegal profession is open to individuals with different educational and work backgrounds. However, the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) states that to become a paralegal, one must have some form of formal paralegal education. Furthermore, the association lists some guidelines that should be followed in all paralegal programs. They include:
- At least 18 semester credit hours of paralegal classes.
- The program must be approved by the American Bar Institution; OR
- A member of the American Association for Paralegal Education; OR
- A post-secondary program with at least 60 credit hours per semester.
You can earn any of these to be qualified as a paralegal:
Associate Degree In Paralegal Studies
Associate degrees generally span two years, and requirements vary from one school to another. Nevertheless, many schools will require a high school diploma.
GetEducated Sponsored Programs
- Purdue University Global Associate of Applied Science in Legal Support & Services
- National American University Associate of Applied Science in Professional Legal Studies
- Post University Associate of Science in Legal Studies
Bachelor’s Degree in Legal Studies or Other Related Fields
The National Federation for Paralegal Associations (NFPA) reports that a bachelor’s degree is becoming the preferred degree for employers. A bachelor’s degree in legal studies can be pursued while sitting for it physically or via online law schools. Only a handful of schools offer a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. As such, you’ll often find paralegals who studied in fields like social science and business.
Master’s Degree in Legal Studies
After earning a bachelor’s degree, the next step in your paralegal career path is to pursue a Master’s in Legal Studies (MLS). An MLS may cover topics like Intellectual Property Law, Negotiation, Trial Advocacy, and Employment Law. These will arm students with the necessary skills to excel as paralegals.
Whether you’re just starting out in your career, or switching from another profession, one of the easiest ways you can complete the required education for paralegals is through online paralegal programs. With online programs, you not only save time and money, but you also have the flexibility to work or stay close to family.
Some of the things you can expect to learn in a paralegal program include:
- Legal investigation and interviewing
- The paralegal profession
- Legal research and writing
- Delivery of legal services
- The American legal system
- Substantive and procedural law
- Law offices and related environments
- Law-related computer skills
2. Gain Professional Experience
Data from the BLS shows that employers are more likely to hire candidates who have experience in a legal setting or even an office environment. Paralegal students typically gain experience through internships offered during their paralegal program – which is usually enough for consideration. This experience allows students to learn about specialized areas such as environmental law, and real estate law, while also building a resume.
3. Earn Paralegal Certification
Paralegal circles have ongoing discussions on the need for a unified registration, licensing, or certificate for paralegals. However, only a few states have implemented some regulatory requirements.
Due to this vacuum in paralegal regulations, several professional bodies have tried to create some uniformity in the system through their certifications. Candidates are qualified to earn these certificates through experience, a formal paralegal program, or a combination of both. These are some standard paralegal certifications and the organizations that issue them:
Certified Paralegal (CP)
The Certified Paralegal credential is awarded by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). And candidates are required to attempt and pass the Certified Paralegal/Certified Legal Assistant (CP/CLA) exam to earn the certificate.
CORE Registered Paralegal (CRP)
The CORE Registered Paralegal (CRP) credential is designed for entry-level paralegals to show proof of their knowledge and skills in paralegal practice. Candidates must pass the Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCE), which is administered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) to earn the credential.
American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP)
Unlike the other certification listed above, the American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) credential is a credential that was developed by different states. These states include Ohio, Florida, Texas, and North Carolina. The certificate is administered by the American Alliance of Paralegals (AAPI), a conglomerate of paralegal associations and state bar associations.
Professional Paralegal (PP)
The National Association for Legal Support Professions (NALS) organizes the Professional Paralegal (PP) credential is awarded after candidates partake in a four-part exam that can be taken in one day.
4. Get A Paralegal Job
After gaining the necessary skill and qualifications, paralegals have a wide range of options to choose from in their job search. Possible workplaces include insurance companies, banks, private law firms, trade organizations, or large corporations. Alternatively, paralegals can choose to work in the public sector. Whatever you end up picking should be where your skills are brought to the fore.
Career Options For Paralegals
There are endless possibilities to specialize in the paralegal field, and the list of paralegal career paths is almost endless. These are a few of the specialty areas in paralegal practice.
Bankruptcy Paralegals guide debtors through a standard process that relieves them of their debt when negotiating with the court and creditors. Many stages are involved in a bankruptcy, including schedules, applications, meetings, and interviews. Also, some bankruptcies are more complicated than others, with additional steps involved.
Paralegals specializing in corporate law are called corporate paralegals, and their duties revolve around business and the organization of corporate transactions. Corporate paralegals are required to have an in-depth understanding of investments, contract law, securities, banking, mergers and acquisitions, and employment laws.
Criminal Law Paralegal
Also known as Criminal Litigation Paralegals, Criminal Law Paralegals primarily work with criminal defense prosecutors and attorneys. They do the same work as most other paralegals; research, corresponding with clients, interviews, filing paperwork, etc.) However, their work differs because their duties revolve around building cases to support or defend accused persons.
Litigation paralegals work with attorneys to investigate the facts of a case. They assist in collecting facts and cataloging them in case files. Paralegals also help in deposing witnesses and writing pleadings. Additionally, they are heavily involved in the pretrial and trial stage, as they have to research, organize, analyze data, and liaise with court officials.
Personal Injury Paralegal
Personal injury paralegals need to possess a wide array of skills and strengths, as personal injury is broad and can take many shapes. Some of the duties of a personal injury paralegal include creating detailed records, interviewing clients, and filing documents in court. Personal injury paralegals often have to deal with medical documents and personnel, and as such, they should be familiar with the administrative processes in the medical field.
Skills To Become A Paralegal
A paralegal’s job can be broad and quite demanding. Here are some traits that every paralegal needs in their skill set to succeed.
- Excellent communication skills (verbal and written)
- An in-depth understanding of the law
- The ability to adapt
- Commercial awareness
- Attention to detail
- Research skills
- Ability to multitask
- Ability to work under pressure
- Solid organizational skills
- Interpersonal skills/teamwork
Online Paralegal Programs
A significant advantage of online paralegal programs is the flexibility it affords. While there are more hybrid programs, most online paralegal programs are completely virtual with zero on-campus requirements.
Online paralegal programs last anywhere between four months and two years, and many programs allow you to choose electives in the area of law that intrigues you the most.
The primary topics you can expect to cover in online paralegal programs include writing and communication, document preparation, the American legal system, litigation, procedures, and law research.
In your search for an online paralegal program, go for what fits best into your schedule. So whether you’re looking for synchronous or asynchronous programs, we’ve got you covered. Continue reading to find out the top online programs to become a paralegal.
Top Online Paralegal Programs
1. Bachelor of Science in Law and Paralegal Studies
The Bachelor of Science in Law and Paralegal Studies offered by the University of Cincinnati is one of the top online programs for paralegal studies. The program is entirely online and approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).
All coursework in the program is handled by practicing attorneys, and if you’re fresh out of high school, then this program is excellent for you.
Once you fulfill all admission requirements, the program prepares you for a paralegal career in large corporations, law offices, and government units. Even if you’re pursuing a career as a judiciary clerk, litigation support analyst, or legal aid advocate, the program is tailored to your needs. Some courses here include real estate law, intermediate composition, advanced legal research, and administrative litigation.
2. Associate of Arts in Paralegal Studies
The University of Arkansas Grantham offers an online Associate of Arts in Paralegal Studies that prepares you for the paralegal profession. Some of the key topics you can expect to learn in this topic include trial and litigation, wills, trusts and estates, and rules of evidence.
Apart from the essential and substantive elements of law, the program helps students develop professional qualities that may come in handy in different settings. Students also get to build their interviewing, research, investigation, and analysis skills and become better communicators. Courses are offered every month, meaning you can start your online associate’s degree at a time that’s convenient for you.
Graduates from the program qualify to practice as paralegals, secretaries, and legal supports at any organization or law firm.
3. Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies
Whether you are trying to land entry-level paralegal jobs or you already have some experience in administration, the Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies program offered by National American University is right for you. The online paralegal program aids students in developing their critical thinking, communications, legal research, and analysis skills. Courses are taken in synchronous style.
You can apply the credits you earn in this program to the Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies offered by National American University. The program provides Office Technology, Civil Procedure, and Professional Ethics coursework. At the end of the program, students can take the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) exam to become certified paralegals.
4. Paralegal Technology Certificate
The Paralegal Technology Certificate offered by the Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) prepares students for roles as loan office investigators, deputy clerks of court, paralegals, and law office managers. One advantage of this program is that it focuses on real-world and practical experiences that give students the edge in their job search.
As part of requirements for completion of the program, students will engage in projects that involve drafting complaints, pleadings, trusts, wills, etc. Students will do these alongside legal research, and upon completion, they can take the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) exam. Some of the courses offered by CCCC include family law, civic injuries, criminal procedure, and ethics and professionalism.
5. Paralegal Diploma
You can earn a diploma without stepping into the classroom with the Paralegal Diploma program offered by Penn Foster College. This program prepares students for a paralegal profession by training them about ethics, the logic of arguments, emotional manipulation, and agenda promotion.
Additionally, students at this program learn about case law, the foundations of modern law, precedence, and the codification of the law. Legal writing is also emphasized at Penn Foster College, as students are introduced to legal-specific writing styles and drafting legal memorandums.
To ensure a smooth online experience, the students learn to retrieve deleted files, customize input and display devices, and create notes. At different intervals during the program, students are required to partake in graded projects, where they apply what they’ve learned.
6. Master of Legal Studies
Whether you are looking to advance in the paralegal profession or your career crosses paths with the law, the Master of Legal Studies program from Northcentral University is a great option. During this master’s program, students will study legal analysis and research, with a clear focus on clear communication. Coursework for this program covers advanced topics in torts law, American constitutional law, civil actions, and criminal actions.
The MLS program follows the American Association of Paralegals (AAfPE) guidelines. Suitable for working professionals, the program ends with a capstone project.
7. Master of Legal Studies
Another great online program for those willing to advance in their careers is the Master of Legal Studies program from Purdue University Global. This program expands students’ expertise by exposing them to a wide range of complex legal issues.
Purdue University Global gives students two unique study track options to choose from. You can either complete a comprehensive exam or an applied research project to illustrate your understanding of the material. This 100% online degree covers several legal syllabi like legal research, legal ethics, legal analysis, writing, legal history, and jurisprudence.
8. Certificate in Paralegal Studies
With the increasing need for paralegals, online students can pursue a Certificate in Paralegal Studies at Ashworth College. The program is tailor-made to suit the needs of working adults who are aiming for a college degree in the competitive market.
Some of the coursework includes legal analysis, the American legal system, and litigation. The courses at this program are affordable and flexible, and the certificate can serve as a stepping stone to an online degree in paralegal studies.Could not look up school using "24047"!
9. Career Diploma in Paralegal Studies
Another route you can take to kickstart your paralegal career is the Career Diploma in Paralegal Studies offered by Ashworth College. The program arms students with the skills and knowledge to assume various positions in the legal system.
Some of the topics students can expect to learn include torts and property law, contracts and business law, and legal research/writing. Students of Career Diploma in Paralegal Studies will develop computer, database management, and organizational skills.
Upon completion, graduates can work for government agencies, law firms, and large corporate organizations.Could not look up school using "24047"!
10. Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies
National American University (NAU) offers an online Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies. The American Bar Association (ABA) approves this program. It is excellent for students aiming for law careers and those pursuing graduate studies in the legal field.
Students in NAU can expect to delve deep into legal research, criminal and civil procedure, and information technology.
Additionally, the program focuses on analysis, communication, professional ethics, and theory application skills. Students can sit for the CLA exam and the CORE Competency Exam to earn a paralegal certification upon graduation.
Start An Online Paralegal Program Today!
Many great and affordable online paralegal programs give students the freedom to pursue other endeavors while planning for a paralegal career. Feel free to explore and find out how to pick the best online paralegal program. You can also check out thefor more information about related online programs.