Legal Studies Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Course Info

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What jobs can you get with an associate or bachelor's degree in legal studies? Get the facts about requirements, online options, courses and training programs.
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Studying Legal Studies: Degrees at a Glance

A legal studies program can prepare you for a career as a paralegal, legal assistant or legal office manager. As a paralegal or legal assistant, you would help lawyers prepare for hearings and trials by investigating cases and conducting relevant research. You also might organize files, prepare reports and draft legal documents. In addition to finding employment with a law firm, you could work for a state or federal agency, insurance company, private corporation or nonprofit organization. If you've earned a bachelor's degree in legal studies, you might go on to graduate study in legal studies, criminal justice or a related field.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for paralegals and legal assistants was projected to grow 18% from 2010-2020, which was about average. Job growth for first-line supervisors of office and administrative support workers, which includes legal office managers, also was expected to be about average, at 14%.

Associate Bachelor's
Who Is This Degree For? Individuals who are seeking an entry-level position as a paralegal or legal assistant or who want to transfer their credits to a bachelor's degree program Individuals seeking a paralegal or legal assistant career and/or those who intend to go to graduate school
Common Career Paths (with approximate annual median salary) - Paralegal or legal assistant ($47,000)* - Paralegal or legal assistant ($47,000)*
- Legal office manager ($49,000. Note: Figure is for all first-line supervisors of office and administrative support workers.)
Time to Completion Two years full-time Four years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 5-8 general education courses
- Roughly 11-14 courses in legal studies
- Roughly 14-17 general education courses
- Roughly 22-26 courses in legal studies
Prerequisites - High school diploma or GED
- Minimum required ACT or SAT score (required by some schools)
- Assessment testing (usually administered by college - not always required)
- High school diploma or GED
- Minimum required ACT or SAT score
- Letters of recommendation (not required by all schools)
Online Availability Limited Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), May 2011 salaries.

Associate Degree in Legal Studies Programs

In addition to providing you with legal writing and research skills, an associate degree program in legal studies can introduce you to various branches of the legal field, such as corporate, elder, family, personal injury and property law. Most programs also feature an internship component.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Most employers only require an associate degree for paralegal positions
  • Many associate degree programs are offered by colleges that have an open admissions policy, making it easier to be accepted than at a 4-year college
  • If you decide to purse a bachelor's degree at a later date, your associate degree courses likely can be applied toward that degree

Cons

  • Though more than 1,000 schools feature paralegal programs, just over one-fourth are approved by the American Bar Association*
  • Some employers prefer to hire job applicants who have a bachelor's degree
  • A bachelor's degree may be needed for advanced positions

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

As a legal studies associate degree student, you'll likely be required to take general education courses in math, science, English, psychology and sociology. You also might learn about office or legal technology. Other topics of study generally include the following:

  • Law
  • Ethics
  • Investigations
  • Legal research and writing
  • Civil litigation and procedure

Online Course Info

Associate degree programs in legal studies typical are not offered fully online. If you're considering an online degree program, ensure that the school you choose is accredited and that it offers a similar curriculum and has similar graduation requirements to programs offered on campus.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

One way to stand out with this degree is to make smart choices when it comes to electives. For example, you might select classes in communication or public speaking, which could help you in your interactions with both clients and co-workers. Additionally, some programs offer electives in management, which could give you the skills needed to run a law office. If your legal studies program offers an internship as an elective rather than a requirement, be sure to enroll in it. The BLS notes that technical skills gained through an internship can improve your chances of employment as a paralegal or legal assistant.

Also, you might want to be sure you choose a program that's accredited by the American Bar Association. This could make it easier to earn voluntary certification, which is available through the National Association of Legal Assistants as well as state-level organizations. The BLS notes that paralegals with certification might find it easier to land a job.

Bachelor's Degree in Legal Studies

Bachelor's programs in legal studies often include the same core courses as associate degree programs, while also allowing you to pursue an area of concentration, such as family law, litigation or corporate/business law. Additionally, bachelor's programs might offer lengthier internship opportunities than associate degree programs. Some bachelor's programs in legal studies include the prerequisite courses you would need to enroll in law school.

Pros and Cons of a Bachelor's Degree in Legal Studies

Pros

  • Some legal studies bachelor's programs are available 100% online
  • Most programs include internships, some of which span more than one semester
  • Jobs for paralegals are increasing as law firms and legal departments hire more paralegals to perform tasks formerly performed by higher-paid attorneys*

Cons

  • Most employers don't require a bachelor's degree for legal support positions
  • The two years spent in school beyond an associate degree could instead be spent gaining experience, which is highly valued in this field
  • Not all bachelor's programs in legal studies meet prerequisite requirements for law school

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Your coursework might include general education classes in math, science, English, psychology and sociology. Though many core courses are the same as those in an associate degree program, you might encounter advanced classes in areas like criminal law and procedure. Curriculum requirements might cover:

  • Administrative law
  • Evidence
  • Appeals writing
  • State and local government
  • Constitutional law

Online Course Info

On the bachelor's level, some legal studies programs are available fully online. Some of these programs are designed to build upon knowledge and skills gained in an associate degree program. Online courses are often the same as courses offered on campus, and online programs typically have the same graduation requirements.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Taking a course in organizational technology as part of your bachelor's program could familiarize you with computer and information technology used in legal offices. You might explore topics like confidentiality and data integrity while also learning about e-commerce and online businesses.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Legal Studies
      • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    2. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Homeland Security and Crisis Management
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Excelsior College

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Criminal Justice (Criminal Justice Administration)
      • BS in Criminal Justice (Without Concentration)
  • East Lansing, MI

    Michigan State University

  • Coral Gables, FL

    University of Miami

Featured Schools

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Legal Studies
  • B.A. - Criminal Justice

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American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Homeland Security and Crisis Management

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Colorado Technical University

  • BS - Criminal Justice

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Excelsior College

  • BS in Criminal Justice (Criminal Justice Administration)
  • BS in Criminal Justice (Without Concentration)

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