Paralegal Studies Master's: Degrees at a Glance
Master's degree programs in paralegal studies are rare. Students who would like to study advanced legal coursework may consider master's programs in legal studies. While paralegal and legal studies programs are often interchangeable at the undergraduate level, legal studies programs can differ at this level. For example, master's degree legal studies programs may prepare students for advanced legal positions in a variety of industries, while paralegal programs are more specific to paralegals. Although a master's degree can offer advanced education in legal topics, an associate's degree in paralegal studies is commonly all that is required for paralegal positions, and a master's degree would not typically be a hard requirement for employment.
|Who is this degree for?|| - Individuals who hold a bachelor's degree in an unrelated subject and wish to change their career path to that of a paralegal |
- Individuals from all fields who are interested in developing advanced legal knowledge
|Common Career Path (with approximate mean annual salary)||Paralegal or legal assistant ($50,000)*|
|Time to Completion||1-3 years, full-time or part-time|
|Common Graduation Requirements|| - 30 credit hours of core and elective legal studies coursework|
- Field experience, practicum or internship (elective)
|Prerequisites|| - Bachelor's degree |
- Possible minimum GPA requirement
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures)
Master's in Legal and Paralegal Studies
Master's degree programs in paralegal studies commonly deal with advanced concepts in law, which may also be combined with independent research opportunities. Programs may also allow you to select a concentration, such as business law, global studies or public health. Master's degree programs can typically be completed in two years for full-time students.
Pros and Cons
- Opportunity to gain an advanced legal education that can be applied to a variety of fields
- Coursework may be applicable or transferable to a J.D. program
- Some programs allow you to select a focus area or concentration, which can help specialize your studies
- A master's degree will not necessarily give you an advantage over associate's degree holders when seeking employment as a paralegal
- Paralegals commonly work long hours
- You may be competed for law-related careers against applicants with more experience and a law degree
Courses and Requirements
Master's degree programs in paralegal studies deal with advanced, graduate-level concepts as they apply to the legal system. This can also be combined with independent research opportunities, which could help you study specialized areas of paralegal studies that are in demand with employers. Additionally, a practicum or an internship may be an option as part of a program. Some areas of study in a paralegal studies program might include:
- Legal writing and research
- Intellectual property law
- Trade law
- Government contracts
- Administrative law
Online Degree Options
Degree programs in paralegal studies are available entirely online through select universities. Online programs can be useful to you if you have a busy personal or professional schedule, or if you wish to obtain a degree from an institution without commuting. In online programs, you receive similar training and cover advanced legal topics, such as legal research and contracts.
Getting Ahead with this Degree
While a master's degree program may seem impressive on its own, a master's degree program in paralegal may not help you stand out to potential employers when you're seeking employment as a paralegal. Instead, employers typically prefer work experience in their candidates, so obtaining as much work experience as possible while still enrolled in school (through internships, practicums or part-time jobs) can help you demonstrate your knowledge in the field. As an aspiring paralegal, you can also standout by specializing in high-demand legal fields. You could also benefit from inquiring with potential employers as to what types of skills and knowledge they value, and then use work experience or elective courses to gain those skills and knowledge.
Alternative Degree Options
If you're interested in obtaining a master's degree in paralegal studies, you may be interested in going a little further and earning a Juris Doctor through an accredited law school in order to become a lawyer. Law school can typically be completed in three years beyond the undergraduate level, as opposed to the two years that it typically takes to complete a master's degree program. In May 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that lawyers earned a mean salary of about $130,000, more than twice what paralegals were reported to earn that same year. The BLS also reported that, from 2010-2020, lawyers could see a 10% increase in employment growth, which is about the average for all occupations.