The legal services industry is constantly growing and changing. Each year, new legislation and judicial precedents change the nature of the work lawyers and paralegals do on a daily basis. If you’re thinking of a career as a paralegal, you’ll want to ensure that your career starts on the strongest possible foot—which means pursuing a paralegal degree. There are a few options available for budding legal professionals, and you can start with an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree in paralegal studies.
Here is a rundown on each type of degree.
Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies
The quickest way to get your foot in the door of the paralegal profession is through an associate’s degree program in paralegal studies. The only degree requirement for this level of education is a high school diploma or a GED. Once you graduate from high school, you can find the best paralegal associate’s program available at a local community college, university or online.
Many people choose an associate’s degree because it only takes about two years to complete. If you can devote all your time in your daily schedule to school, you might be able to complete this degree program in less time. Nevertheless, a two-year investment is worth the work considering the rewards you could reap as a result.
As mentioned, there might be a paralegal program available through your local community college, or you might opt for an online degree program. The online option makes it easier to continue working and taking care of your family if these responsibilities are something you need to do. And with online programs there are more accredited programs available once you are no longer restricted by geographical college campus locations.
While you may be tempted to seek a shorter certificate program in paralegal studies, consider that choice carefully. While the certificate option might be quicker, most lawyers prefer paralegals with a degree.
When you spend a bit more time in school and earn an associate’s degree in paralegal studies, you can later build on it by pursuing a bachelor’s or even master’s degree in legal studies.
Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies
If you want to put your paralegal career on an even stronger footing, you can work towards a bachelor’s degree. This degree level is often the most sought after by law firms, depending upon which city you choose to work in.
While you work towards your bachelor’s degree, you’ll have the opportunity to focus your coursework upon a specialty area of law if you so choose. For instance, you could take classes criminal justice or family law. You might also take courses in business, finance or accounting that can be later applied to jobs in corporate law. It might also be beneficial to take courses in a foreign language. Bilingual paralegals can be invaluable to firms that specialize in immigration law.
Ultimately, a bachelor’s degree will offer more time to work on getting the skills you will need day in and out as a paralegal. Reading, writing and research will be a large part of your work in a law firm, and your studies will give you the right skills to master these types of tasks.
Master’s Degree in Paralegal Studies
The ultimate degree path for a paralegal is the Master’s in Paralegal Studies. A master’s degree will put your career into high gear. Considering that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the typical entry level paralegal holds an associate’s degree, your work in graduate school will prepare you to become a highly specialized legal professional. These professionals may also work in museums, think tanks and large firms as researchers, or perform government agency work.
When you can claim a master’s degree on your list of credentials, you’ll be considered a great candidate for the top law firms in your location.
Better yet, getting some practical experience in the field will make you a better candidate for graduate programs and will further inform your area of interest. Once you are ready to continue to a master’s level program, you can also work and take online graduate courses on your own schedule.
Online Paralegal Degrees
Online learning has made the educational experience accessible for many people. Accredited online paralegal college courses are available for stay-at-home parents, full-time workers, and those who don’t wish to move hundreds of miles to attend a particular college. All that is required to attend class is an Internet-capable device, a network connection, and the time it takes to complete the required tasks.
Here’s how online classes work: Provided that you can access a Wi-Fi signal, you can engage fellow students in discussion board exercises, research papers or do the reading for that week’s lecture. You students can complete your work after putting the children to bed, or during any convenient block of time that provides the opportunity to focus your attention.
As you study for your paralegal degree online, you may be able to intern or work in a law firm where you might find a mentor among staff paralegals who will be happy to answer questions about the profession as you develop your skills.
A career as a paralegal is never dull. It can take you into the courtroom where you’ll assist attorneys, or place you in a law library where you’ll research statutes and legal contracts to help strengthen a case. When you study for a paralegal degree, you’ll be preparing for a career helping others, as well as helping yourself create a solid future.
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