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Online Paralegal Degree: Paralegal School Training and Studies

Paralegals, also known as legal assistants, aid lawyers in their work. Paralegal study is becoming popular as job opportunities are on the rise. The road to becoming a paralegal has never been easier with numerous colleges and university programs offering paralegal studies, including online paralegal degree programs.

Job Description and Responsibilities of Graduates of Paralegal Schools

Obtaining a paralegal degree prepares you for the intricacies involved in a paralegal career. The professional duties and responsibilities of paralegals vary according to their employer and work setting. The 3 main areas in which graduates of paralegal schools find jobs are: law firms, corporations, and government agencies.

Paralegal Degree Holders Working at Law firms

Some paralegal degree holders may opt to work for law firms. Those who do so usually assist lawyers in court cases such as trials, hearings and closings and are expected to:

  • Conduct client interviews

  • Research, analyze and verify the accuracy of case facts

  • Identify relevant laws and judicial decisions pertaining to cases

  • Prepare and collate written reports based on the researched information

  • Prepare legal documents to be filed with the courts, such as draft pleadings and motions

  • Provide general assistance to lawyers during trials

  • Draft legal documents like contracts, mortgages, and separation agreements

  • Plan estates

Graduates of paralegal schools who join law firms need to be extremely sharp and responsive to lawyers' requests for information.

Paralegal Degree Holders Working in Corporations

A large number of people who undertake paralegal studies go on to work for corporations in which they perform tasks such as the preparation of: 

  • Employee contracts and benefit plans

  • Stock-option plans

  • Shareholder agreements

  • Annual financial reports

  • Corporate minutes' record resolutions

  • Tax returns

They might also be asked to keep up-to-date with government regulations to ensure that the organization is in compliance with the law.

Paralegal Degree Holders Working in Government Agencies

Some paralegal degree holders secure careers in the numerous government agencies which comprise the public sector. The job entails:

  • Analysis of legal information

  • Maintenance of reference files

  • Research, collection and analysis of evidence for lawyers involved in agency hearings

  • Preparation of legal information for internal use as well as for the public

Those engaged in community work will also provide legal assistance for underprivileged individuals and families.

Career Options for Graduates of Paralegal Schools and Paralegal Degree Holders

About 70% of graduates work for law firms and 30% find jobs at corporate legal departments and government agencies. Paralegal degree graduates may choose to focus on a particular area of law such as:

  • Litigation

  • Family law

  • Corporate law

  • Criminal law

  • Intellectual property

  • Real estate

  • Immigration

Paralegals can also specialize in an area of law as they garner more experience and familiarize themselves with the growing complexities of their preferred legal specialty. Specialization is quite common in larger law firms whereas paralegals working in small firms need to have a general knowledge of law so that they can perform a range of duties.  

Paralegal Training & Certification

Paralegal study can be pursued in a few ways, including enrolling in paralegal schools or through an online paralegal degree. An associate's degree can be obtained via a 2-year community college program in paralegal studies whereas a more comprehensive bachelor's degree would take 4 years.

For those who require a flexible schedule, an online paralegal degree would be a good option. Always ensure that any institution offering an online paralegal degree program is appropriately credentialed and if the degree conferred is widely accepted by prospective employers. Besides finding out more about the online paralegal degree program's instructors and tuition fees, it is important to ascertain the duration of the course. This typically takes between six to ten months to complete.

A certification program would be the preferable route for those with a basic college degree seeking to pursue a paralegal degree. Generally, paralegal certification programs are intensive and span a few months. Successful candidates who pass the examination administered by The National Association of Legal Assistants become “Certified Legal Assistants”. In addition, paralegals keen on specializing can sit for advanced certification examinations. For those with a bachelor's degree and 2 years experience, passing the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam, conducted by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, will earn them the designation of Registered Paralegal (RP).

Programs at paralegal schools ensure that students are literate in the use of computers for legal applications. Most paralegal schools also require that students undertake an internship to gain practical experience by applying their legal knowledge in the work place. Employers look favorably on graduates of paralegal schools with internship experience. 

Paralegal School and Paralegal Degree Accreditation

You should research the accreditation of paralegal schools prior to application to ensure the institution's paralegal study program meets the minimum requirements stipulated by the state or regional body. In addition, students considering a paralegal degree should verify if the program complies with the standards set forth by the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA has approved 260 programs which offer paralegal studies. Although such approval is not required for all paralegal study programs, your employment prospects may improve if you choose to pursue a paralegal degree from one of the accredited programs.

Paralegal School Graduates Earning Potential and Employment Prospects

Wages earned by paralegals vary according to employment sector. The highest earning paralegals typically work for large legal corporations, with some earning as much as $80,000 annually. The median annual salary of paralegals was $39,130 in 2004. Paralegals employed by the US federal government earned $53,000 per annum whilst those working for state governments earned $34,000 annually. 

Employment prospects look hopeful as the need for graduates of paralegal schools rises. More employers are hiring paralegals instead of lawyers to do basic legal work. As organizations in the corporate sector seek to improve their in-house legal, graduates of paralegal schools can look forward to a larger pool of jobs from which to choose. The number of jobs in law firms and the government sector are also set to increase.

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