Paralegal Studies Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Class Info

About this article
Associate and bachelor's degrees in paralegal studies can lead to careers supporting lawyers and conducting legal research. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
View available schools

Studying Paralegal Studies: Degrees at a Glance

Associate and bachelor's degree programs in paralegal studies prepare you for employment as a paralegal. You would assist lawyers in a variety of tasks, including organizing and maintaining files, conducting legal research and writing reports (though you can't yourself practice law). Upon graduating, you're prepared to seek positions in law firms, government agencies, corporate legal departments, real estate agencies, insurance companies, health care agencies and financial institutions.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for paralegals are expected to increase by 18% (an average rate) from 2010-2020. Given the popularity of this growing field, competition is expected to be strong, so paralegals who have received formal training are expected to have the best prospects. It is anticipated that graduates with training and education in specialized or high-demand areas of law, such as civil litigation, bankruptcy and environmental law, will be top candidates for employment.

Associate Bachelor's
Who Is This Degree for? Students who are interested in law or want to work collaboratively with lawyers - Students who want to further their education in paralegal studies or learn a specialized area of law
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary* and approximate 10th-90th percentile salary range**) - Paralegal ($50,000)*
- Deputy clerk ($21,000-$53,000)**
- Law office manager ($29,000-$79,000)**
- Paralegal ($50,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED High School Diploma or GED
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics* (figures from 2011), Payscale.com** (figures from 2012)

Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies

Associate degree programs in paralegal studies - sometimes called paralegal technology - allow you to develop skills in critical thinking, research, communication and writing. You can learn about various areas of law, including probate law, family law and real estate law. Many schools require an internship, giving you the opportunity to gain practical experience in a law firm, corporation or government agency before graduation.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Internships allow you to gain practical experience as a paralegal
  • Schools may offer flexible scheduling, with classes offered online or during the evenings
  • Paralegal job opportunities are increasing, due to the fact that paralegals are taking on duties once done primarily by lawyers
  • Your instructors may work alongside potential employers and help you obtain a job upon graduating

Cons

  • Competitive job market following graduation
  • During busy times of the year, paralegals may work long hours
  • This degree doesn't allow you to practice law; you would need to complete three years of law school and pass the bar exam

Courses and Requirements

Students in an associate degree program in paralegal studies learn about legal research, legal writing, ethics and various law specialties. Many programs require an internship or practicum, and you'll also be required to satisfy general education course requirements.

Common course topics include:

  • Introduction to law
  • Torts
  • Contract law
  • Civil litigation
  • Law office management

Online Course Info

While associate degree programs offer individual classes that you can take online, it is rare to find programs that are entirely online. The American Bar Association (ABA) does not approve distance-learning programs. Since the ABA mark of approval signifies programs as high-quality, and employers may look for graduation from an ABA-recognized program, you'll want to take this into consideration.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

It's advisable that individuals interested in paralegal studies have excellent computer, critical analysis and communications skills, so you could focus on developing these through coursework electives. The job market for paralegal professionals favors those with experience and training in a highly specialized area of law, so consider obtaining an internship focusing on one of these areas. Some schools also have paralegal clubs, which can be excellent resources for networking with paralegal professionals. Your school's club might organize field trips to local courthouses and possibly even the Supreme Court, providing you with valuable experience in legal settings.

To improve job prospects upon graduation, you can pursue voluntary certification. The National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc. (NALA) administers the Certified Paralegal/Certified Legal Assistant program, which is approved by the ABA and sets the national standard for these professionals (paralegal and legal assistant are synonymous career terms). The CP/CLA exam takes place over a two-day period. Certification is valid for up to five years, and you must complete 50 hours of continuing education during that time in order to revalidate it.

Bachelor's Degree in Paralegal Studies

Bachelor's degree programs in paralegal studies - also referred to as paralegal science or legal studies - build on the foundation of the practical skills learned in an associate degree program and offer additional opportunities to learn more about legal specialties, such as bankruptcy law and labor law. You still won't be qualified to practice law; however, you'll be prepared to apply to law school, as well as other graduate programs related to legal studies. In this way, a bachelor's degree program can set the educational foundation for a career as a lawyer, teacher or researcher.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Programs focus more on legal specialties compared to associate degree programs
  • With advanced experience, paralegals work with less supervision and can delegate work to other employees
  • Bachelor's degree programs prepare students for graduate study in law and criminal justice

Cons

  • You would be applying for the same positions as individuals with associate degrees
  • Some paralegal positions may be temporary; a bachelor's degree may not equate to job security
  • Fewer schools offer bachelor's degree programs

Courses and Requirements

Students enrolled in a bachelor's degree program take classes that are fairly similar to those offered in an associate degree program. However, you might take more advanced courses in litigation and have more elective opportunities, like evidence procedures, interviewing, dispute resolution and international law. Some programs include a set of business classes, including business law, as a requirement. Internships and a portfolio may also be suggested or required to graduate.

Online Course Info

Bachelor's degree programs in paralegal studies that are completely online are hard to find, although you might be able to complete a few courses via Internet. Home-based paralegal programs are also not ABA-approved at the bachelor's degree level.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

While still in school, you can complete an internship, join your school's legal society, take special topic courses and gain experience with Lexis/Nexis database systems to give your resume an edge. Obtaining certification is another way to show employers that you're knowledgeable and competent in the paralegal profession.

Other than the CLA certification, you can seek the Professional Paralegal credential, offered through the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS). After five years of paralegal work experience, you're eligible to take the four-part exam, which covers legal knowledge and skills, ethics and judgment skills, substantive law and written communications. Certification is valid for five years, and a combination of continuing education and professional development activities is required to renew certification. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. (NFPA) offers two certification exams: the Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (which you can take after completing an approved program) and the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (which requires formal education plus practical work experience to be eligible). Maintenance of licensure requires continuing legal education.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Legal Support and Services
      • BS - Legal Support and Services - Paralegal
      • Undergraduate in Legal Studies
      • Bachelor: Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Legal Studies
      • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    4. 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
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Forensic Science
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • Chattanooga, TN

    The University of Tennessee

  • Online Programs Available
    6. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.S. Criminal Justice
      • B.S. General Studies - Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Excelsior College

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Criminal Justice (Criminal Justice Administration)
      • BS in Criminal Justice (Without Concentration)

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • BS - Legal Support and Services
  • BS - Legal Support and Services - Paralegal
  • Undergraduate in Legal Studies

Which subject are you interested in?

Keiser University

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

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • BS - Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

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

Are you a US citizen?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • B.S. Criminal Justice
  • B.S. General Studies - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Excelsior College

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

What is your highest level of education completed?