Paralegals and legal assistants are integral to keeping law offices, courts and other types of government offices around the country running smoothly. Law firms in particular often employ paralegals to handle anything from interviewing clients to helping an attorney prepare for trial. Specialization among paralegals and other legal experts is common, and can include real estate, accounting, social services and more.
Most employers prefer an applicant who holds at least an associate degree in paralegal studies, though legal assistants and paralegals are sometimes trained on the job instead. Students who plan to juggle school with a full- or part-time job, or even with family responsibilities, might find an online degree program to be a convenient method to earn an education in the field.
Finding online colleges for paralegal studies isn't difficult, but finding the right one can be. All students have their own individual needs, and they must keep in mind that not every program out there can meet those needs. In order to help future paralegals make this important choice, we've identified a list of the best colleges for paralegal studies. This list was constructed using a proprietary methodology made by OnlineColleges.com and using data from the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).
Although lawyers are the face of a firm, paralegals help ensure a practice runs like a well-oiled machine. This is a big responsibility, and online colleges for paralegal and legal services have a lot to impart to help their students meet this challenge. This page provides a look at what may be taught in these programs and how it might prove useful for graduates looking for their careers.
While the coursework that paralegals complete will depend on the specific program they enroll in, the following are examples of common classes students may take while earning their online paralegal and legal services degrees.
In order to provide assistance to attorneys, paralegals need a battery of skills. This section provides an overview of some of the skills that student paralegals may want to pay particular attention to during their online courses.
Paralegals are not required to obtain a certification in order to find employment; however, some employers prefer professionals with an industry credential, so earning one can be a wise move. The following associations offer certifications for workers in the field:
Those who pursue paralegal studies might do so in the hopes of becoming a paralegal. This educational path, however, prepares students for several related jobs as well. Here are a few positions a paralegal studies graduate might find intriguing.
Attorneys rely on paralegals and legal assistants to help them organize files, draft documents and conduct legal research. These legal professionals gather the facts of a case, summarize their findings for attorney review, assist in case preparation and obtain affidavits and other documents used in court. They contact those involved in a case to set up appointments, assist attorneys during the trial process and file legal documents on behalf of the attorney.
An associate degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor's degree in another field as well as a certificate in paralegal studies, is often the minimum acceptable education for paralegal or legal assistant careers. However, those who have strong experience in a technical field useful to the attorney's firm might be hired without these educational requirements.
These individuals must have intense attention to detail and a good eye for research. Title examiners, abstractors and searchers work for real estate companies, financial institutions, insurance companies, attorneys and the like, where they search real estate records, summarize legal or insurance documents, examine titles and explore other documents related to a particular assignment. They are well-versed in searching public and private records to find information pertinent to a specific piece of land and the buildings on it.
Though title examiners, abstractors and searcher careers can start with only a high school diploma, applicants should expect short-term on-the-job training to help them get up to speed with the particulars of searching and understanding their results. Job candidates who have an associate or bachelor's degree in a field that requires strong research skills may find that that background enhances their job prospects.
Secretaries in a legal office handle all the work a secretary is traditionally responsible for — answering calls, taking messages, setting appointments, arranging meetings, handling correspondence and keeping up with a detailed filing system — but they do so in legal offices, where they must have familiarity with the legal world. This knowledge of legal terminology and procedure may also allow the legal secretary to prepare documents under the supervision of an attorney or paralegal. They might also review journals and assist with legal research.
Though most secretaries can begin work without a college degree, legal secretary careers typically require a working knowledge of the legal world. This can often be obtained through on-the-job training. However, those who want to impress at hiring time could take legal-related courses to better understand the terminology and procedures of the court.