Paralegal Associate’s Degree
The paralegal profession is constantly growing and evolving as laws change and new law specialties emerge.
From a fledgling profession that provided lower-cost legal representation to those with less income, to a currently full scale academic field, paralegal and legal assisting careers are highly sought after and valued.
Now, you can achieve degrees that will stand out on a resume when you apply for a job at a law firm. There may also be the possibility to work as a contract employee on big cases or to work online for firms in other towns—or even states.
Regardless of the career route you take, a paralegal associate’s degree is the key to a bright future in an endlessly fascinating field.
Why Choose a Legal Studies Associate’s Degree?
When you earn a paralegal associate’s degree, you will receive the practical knowledge you need to survive, and even thrive, in the high pressure environment of a law firm. A paralegal degree will prepare you to perform the technical aspects of your job, including creating presentations with specialized software and learning how to make the best use of legal databases for research.
An associate’s degree will also train you on how to maximize your communication skills. You might take interpersonal communication classes to provide deeper insight into how you speak and listen to others. You could also take an advanced writing course to help you prepare for composing the legal drafts that will be part of your everyday duties. You can also begin thinking about which area of the law you enjoy working in, and start the process of selecting a law specialty in any number of areas, such as criminal law, wills and trusts, real estate, or the environment.
An associate’s degree may even allow you to complete a minor course of study. This minor will help you hone specific skills, such as computer science, or help you advance in your paralegal practice by teaching skills in accounting, taxes and corporate finance, among others.
Get Experience While You Learn
If you take accredited online paralegal courses, you can schedule your school work so you can begin to work in a law firm in an entry-level role while you attend school.
You could gain experience as a receptionist, docket clerk or in the mail room, depending on the size of the firm. You could also do an internship with a law firm in order to gain practical, hands-on experience as a paralegal prior to officially joining a firm. Not only will you gain experience for your resume, you can make contacts in the field that may be helpful later on when you look for a job or seek advancement.
Online Associate’s Degrees in Paralegal Studies are Available
When you pursue a paralegal associate’s degree from an accredited online program, you might initially feel that the experience will be isolating and autonomous. The truth is, in an online course, you will have access to fellow students who come from a wide range of backgrounds. They may be in other states but through tools such as Blackboard and through interactive seminars and Skype, you’ll soon find yourself talking with them—and your professors—on a daily basis.
The good news is there are many online associate’s degree programs out there for aspiring paralegals, which can be a lifesaver if you need to continue working to finance your education or help with family obligations.
Beyond the Associate’s Degree
Once you complete your associate’s degree in paralegal studies, you can enter into the field and get your career started. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the standard educational level for entry-level paralegals is an associate’s degree. However, you might wish to increase your earning potential and value to your employer with more academic training later on.
If this is the case, many schools offer a Bachelor of Legal Studies, which will allow you to leverage your associate’s degree by applying your two years of college toward your four-year bachelor’s. You must graduate from an accredited program in order for all your associate’s degree credits to transfer, however.
In a bachelor’s program you’ll begin focusing on different areas of the law. Because you’ll have completed many basic courses in your associate’s program, you’ll be able to take more advanced and theoretical classes such as these:
- Law and Society
- Theories of Justice
- Legal Discourse
- Foundations of Legal Studies
Career Outlook for Paralegals
The future looks bright for the paralegal profession. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the field is expected to grow at around 15 percent through at least 2026, which is well above the national average for all other career fields combined. Further, the median annual salary of $49,500 could grow to over $80,260—which is what the top 10 percent in the field earn—over time and with further education, although location may also play a factor.
Median Salary for Paralegals
Once you have your associate’s degree, you could find paralegal work in law firms, corporate legal departments or government agencies, either as a full time employee or as a contractor. All you’ll need to do is get started researching accredited schools and requesting information about their paralegal programs.
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