While most brick-and-mortar schools offer programs to become a paralegal, there are also many online paralegal programs you can choose from to achieve your career goal. Although most working paralegals hold a bachelor’s degree, a full 30 percent have an associate’s degree and another 12 percent are working after completing a certificate program. Some of these working paralegals likely earned their degree or certificate through an accredited online program.
If you’re looking to enter the paralegal field but are worried you won’t have the time or resources to start your study program, you’ll find online certificate, associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs in paralegal studies. These flexible courses may even help you accomplish your education goals in a shorter period of time, at a lesser cost. This can help you stay working at your current job, or keep all your commitments to family while you attend classes and earn your degree or certificate.
Online Certificate Program
The biggest advantage of an online paralegal certificate program is the short length of time it will take to complete. Although the length will depend on the school of choice, a typical program will consist of around 33 credit hours as opposed to 60 credit hours required for an associate’s degree.
Although with an online course you’ll be doing your class work from home (or the closest coffee shop with Wi-Fi), you’ll still have the advantages of an active classroom.
Here are just some of the interactions available in online classes:
- Quick feedback from your professors
- Interactive group discussions
- A virtual library
An online paralegal certificate program will teach you how to summarize dispositions, interview clients, prepare legal documents, and to understand the inner workings of legal areas such as litigation and probate. Once you complete your online paralegal certificate program you will be ready to take the national exam and become a certified paralegal so you can begin working in the field.
Some paralegal certificate programs are designed to supplement a degree you’ve already earned, so make sure to determine whether the program you choose has a degree prerequisite.
Online Associate’s Degree
The name of your online associate’s degree will depend on your school of choice. It may be called an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Legal Support and Services or an Associate of Science (AS) in Legal Studies. Once you specify that you want to become a paralegal your school will direct you to the proper program. Although an associate’s degree will take an average of two years to complete, you will be well prepared to enter the paralegal field.
Sample coursework for an online paralegal associate’s degree will mirror the curriculum of a campus.
You’ll study specialty subjects such as these:
- Legal research
- Real estate closings
- Family law and practice
- Bankruptcy practice
Because law technology is advancing at a rapid pace you can also expect to complete coursework in various computer programs designed for paralegals and lawyers. You’ll acquire a solid base of knowledge in ethical legal practice, specific legal skills, and other aspects of law that you’ll use once you begin working as a paralegal.
Online Bachelor’s Degree
A Bachelor of Science in Legal Support and Services or Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies are four year degrees you can earn online to become a paralegal. Because 44 percent of working paralegals hold a bachelor’s degree it is the most coveted level of education for law firms and other industries that hire paralegals.
Depending on your school of choice you may take course such as these:
- Business organizations and practice
- Patent law
- Trademark and copyright law
- The legal context of e-commerce
- Law office management
- Administrative law
You’ll learn the theories and principles of law as well as how to research, investigate and communicate in the legal arena. You’ll also learn real-world applications and practical and technical skills to become a confident and well-rounded paralegal upon graduation.
Online Master’s Degree
Earning an online master’s in legal studies will show the world you are indeed a master of your chosen profession. While there are no salary guarantees, the highest paid 10 percent of working paralegals earned a median annual salary of over $79,010, reflecting those with the highest education and most experience.
Your online master’s degree will be taught by legal professionals who are well versed in their areas of expertise, so upon graduation you’ll have a solid knowledge in all areas of the paralegal field.
You’ll learn to identify and analyze legal doctrine and concepts and all aspects of resolving legal disputes, as well as legal history, jurisprudence and ethical decision making. Your online courses will typically include discussion boards, live seminars and one-on-one feedback from your instructors. Most online master’s degree programs are structured in a case study format, so you’ll build your problem solving skills while you study.
Summing Up Your Online Experience
No matter which online program you choose to a career as a paralegal, it is critical that you choose a school that is accredited so upon graduation you will be qualified to take the national paralegal certification exam.
It’s also a good idea to plan ahead for the future, so if you begin with a certificate program or associate’s degree, accreditation will ensure your hard-earned credits will transfer to a higher degree program or another school when you decide to advance in your paralegal career later on.
Many law firms and other businesses that employ paralegals will have specific continuing education requirements for their employees in order to stay on top of developments in the field, especially when it comes to technology. By starting your career path with an accredited school you’ll make sure all your enrollment criteria are met, so you can concentrate on mastering your paralegal studies.
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