Life as a paralegal can be very diverse. Attorneys will ask you to investigate cases, write drafts of briefs and motions, and help put together presentations for the jury. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for the skills you’ll need to excel in a paralegal career. The road to success includes getting the right education, and to become a paralegal, you can choose between a certificate, associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. While certificates and two-year associate’s degrees are possible entries to the field, a bachelor’s degree is the credential most law firms prefer and look for in new hires.
Why Choose a Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies?
If you are just starting out in college and want a career in law, earning your bachelor’s right off the bat will save time and be more cost efficient in the long run. Since employers want candidates with a bachelor’s degree for the most part, earning an associate’s will just mean you’ll need to go back to school for another two years later on. By getting a bachelor’s degree, you’ll gain the practical knowledge that can prepare you for success. Plus, you’ll be ready to pursue post-graduate education, if you decide you’d like to advance in your career and become a manager or even an attorney. The groundwork will already be in place for a higher degree program.
Some of the classes you’ll take in your bachelor’s degree program may include the following:
- Foundations of Law
- Legal Research and Writing
- Civil practice
- Tort Law
- Criminal Practice
- Wills, Trusts and Estates
- Corporate and Business Law
- Real Estate Transactions and Property
A bachelor’s degree also affords you the opportunity to focus on a minor field of study. When choosing a minor, look for a field that is related to legal studies, or can enhance your skill set within that field, such as writing or computer science. You could consider studying criminal justice and policy, or your school might have a business law degree. Other programs can prepare you for corporate law with courses in finance, accounting and business. With a bachelor’s degree, you can focus on a specialty area that will help steer your career in the right direction.
Legal Experience Counts
Many paralegal bachelor’s programs include practicums where you will work in a law firm for a period of time. These courses allow you to work in your field and apply what you’ve learned so you’ll know exactly what it’s like to be a paralegal.
During your practicum you will have specific outcomes to satisfy to earn academic credit. You may need to draft legal briefs or motions. Other skills you’ll develop may include legal research, building effective presentations and interviewing clients different cases.
In your practicum, you’ll meet the attorneys, paralegals and office administrators who will become your colleagues in the profession. You could make contacts that can help with future jobs, or friends with whom you can collaborate and form a support system. You might also find a legal mentor who can offer real-world advice on how to proceed in your studies. They may help you find ways to leverage your academic experience and boost your skills for your resume.
Online Paralegal Bachelor’s Degrees
If you choose an online college for your bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies program, you could land an entry-level job in a law firm while you study. This way, you can apply what you are learning on a day-to-day basis in the actual field.
Online paralegal degrees also allow you greater flexibility. You won’t need to be tied to any specific geographic location while you learn, so you can enroll in any accredited school that meets your criteria, or you could complete your military duty while studying for a career in the civilian world. If you need to work or tend to your family, you’ll be able to create your own school and study schedule.
Just be sure your program is accredited, as this not only guarantees the quality of the curriculum, but allows you to file for federal financial aid to pay for school. And if you do decide to pursue post-graduate education after earning your bachelor’s degree, accreditation ensures your credits will transfer to your new school or program.
Once you complete your bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies, you might consider joining a professional association such as the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), and receiving professional certification through them. Their certification program is well-respected in the industry and because it is a national credential, will be applicable no matter which state you work in. There are different tiers of certification and you will need to pay a fee and pass a rigorous exam to earn the title. You must also complete continuing education units to keep your certification current.
You might also seek out regional associations where you can find professional fellowship. Many of these offer leadership opportunities, conferences and courses for continuing education.
When you are ready, you might choose to apply for a master’s degree in legal studies. A master’s degree is the very top level of academic achievement for a paralegal. That degree could place you in the running for supervisory positions or other top spots in your law firm’s management.
FIND A SCHOOL TODAY
Tell us a little about yourself and we’ll connect you with schools that offer paralegal studies degree programs.