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Online Colleges for Paralegal & Legal Services

Paralegals and legal assistants are integral to keeping law offices, courts and other types of government offices around the country running smoothly. Law firms of all sizes especially may use paralegals and those with a background in legal studies 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 can be trained on the job. 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 good fit for their needs.

Best Online Colleges for Paralegal Studies

Finding online colleges for paralegal studies isn't difficult… but finding the right one can be. All students have individual needs, and they must keep in mind that not every program out there will meet those needs. In order to help future paralegals make this important choice, we've created a list of the best programs using a unique methodology based on data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) of the National Center for Education Statistics.

1

Rio Salado College

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$2,046
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
58.89%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
45
School Type
2-year

Rio Salado College gives students the chance to learn about the paralegal profession in a flexible way that easily fits into their lifestyle. With eight-week courses that start on multiple dates, students are not confined to traditional semester schedules that may make it difficult for them to enroll in courses. The school offers the following programs:

  • Certificate of Completion in Paralegal
  • Associate in Applied Science Degree in Paralegal

Students who earn these online paralegal studies degrees can sharpen their research skills because the school offers access to WestlawNext -- one of the leading legal research systems.

In addition, they can complete the Westlaw certificate training program to gain an additional credential that will help them stand out in the competitive job market.

Rio Salado College tops our list of the best online colleges for paralegal studies because of its high marks on our prominence scale, as well as its open admissions policy. In addition, we ranked the school No. 7 (out of a total of 68 schools) for affordability -- a factor that students who want to get the most bang for their tuition bucks will appreciate.

Accreditation:

  • Higher Learning Commission

Location:

2323 W. 14th Street
Tempe, Arizona 85281
2

National Paralegal College

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$7,995
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
100.00%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
6
School Type
4-year

The online paralegal studies degrees at National Paralegal College are designed for students who want to pass the Certified Paralegal examination after graduation, as well as those who want to use their studies as the foundation to enroll in a higher-level degree program.

Students who enroll in this school can earn the following degrees or certification:

  • Associate of Paralegal Studies
  • Paralegal Certificate
  • Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies
  • Bachelor of Business Administration

Given its name, it's not surprising that National Paralegal College is No. 1 on our prominence scale: 70 percent of all its awarded degrees are in the paralegal and legal services fields. They also have some of the highest numbers around for factors such as graduation rate. Tuition affordability, in fact, is the only factor that brings it down to second place rather than a runaway first.

Accreditation:

  • Distance Education Accrediting Commission

Location:

717 E. Maryland Avenue
Phoenix, Arizona 85014-1561
3

Cerro Coso Community College

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$1,290
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
18.73%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
19
School Type
2-year

Cerro Coso Community College offers a paralegal studies associate degree program that prepares students to work as paralegals, legal assistants and legal document preparers. In addition to its two-year degree program, Cerro Coso Community College offers a certificate in paralegal studies for those who want to learn the basics of the field in a shorter period of time.

After completing the college's coursework, which is focused on subjects such as legal research, civil procedure, law office management and legal ethics, students are likely to have the foundation they need to get a job after graduation. To prepare for this opportunity, students in this program take courses in specific areas of law, including bankruptcy, criminal, family, probate and workers' compensation, which can help them choose what types of attorneys they want to work for.

This school is ranked No. 3 on our list of the best online colleges for paralegal studies because of its high affordability rating. In fact, it ranks No. 3 in this category, matching its ranking on our list! An extra point in Cerro Coso's favor is their open admissions policy, meaning that any student who fulfills the college's basic requirements can apply and be accepted.

Accreditation:

  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges

Location:

3000 College Heights Blvd.
Ridgecrest, California 93555-9571
4

Kaplan University-Maine Campus

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$11,250
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
86.92%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
54
School Type
4-year

Since 2001, almost 7,000 students have earned a legal studies degree from Kaplan University, which offers a Bachelor of Science in Legal Support and Services that has a concentration in paralegal studies. We ranked the school No. 4 on our list, partially because of the prominence rating it received.

Kaplan students enrolled in the school's online bachelor's degree programs in paralegal studies are exposed to a broad overview of legal concepts that can be used during their careers. Through these programs, students are also encouraged to develop valuable skills such as research, verbal communication, writing and technical abilities that may help them apply the theories they learn in class to real-world situations paralegals encounter. In addition, this degree program can be used as a stepping stone to earn a higher-level degree.

Accreditation:

  • Higher Learning Commission

Location:

265 Western Avenue
S. Portland, Maine 04106-2415
5

Miller-Motte College-Wilmington

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
N/A
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
N/A
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
N/A
School Type
N/A

Founded in 1916, Miller-Motte College was established by Judge Leon Motte, who wanted to provide legal training for court stenographers. In keeping up with this long tradition, the school still offers education to those who want to enter the legal field.

Whether students want to become legal secretaries or paralegals, the online associate degree program at Miller-Motte College-Wilmington aims to give them the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in their careers. This school also rounds out the five top colleges on our list with a prominence rating of 5 and an open admissions policy.

Miller-Motte College's program offers robust courses structured to teach students the fundamentals of the court system, the way law firms are run and the use of legal software. In addition, students can obtain support to help them succeed in the program, including tutoring and academic advising services.

Accreditation:

  • Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools

Location:

5000 Market Street
Wilmington, North Carolina 28405
6

Alexandria Technical & Community College

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$5,402
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
39.30%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
16
School Type
2-year

Alexandria Technical and Community College has been dedicated to providing career education to students since 1961. Back then, the school had three vocational programs for its 21 students. Since that time, it has grown quite a bit and now offers dozens of programs, including two online paralegal associate degrees.

On our graduation rate metric, Alexandria Technical and Community College came in at No. 3, a testament to the school's dedication to creating a quality student experience and the biggest reason it's on our list. Through a curriculum that combines practical skills -- such as how to conduct research, draft and file documents, and write reports -- and legal theory, hopeful paralegals are given an education that has been crafted to provide the skills needed to thrive in a challenging law firm environment.

Accreditation:

  • Higher Learning Commission

Location:

1601 Jefferson Street
Alexandria, Minnesota 56308
7

Northwest Mississippi Community College

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$2,550
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
31.98%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
18
School Type
2-year

Added to our list because of its ratings on the prominence and affordability metrics, as well as its open admissions policy, Northwest Mississippi Community College offers a paralegal technology degree program intended to prepare students to work in a variety of settings, such as law firms, government agencies, real estate companies and insurance carriers. To this end, the curriculum focuses on different areas of the legal profession, from civil litigation to criminal law, for the purpose of giving students a taste of the types of environments they may work in after graduation.

Northwest Mississippi Community College's online paralegal associate degree program, which takes two years to complete, is designed to help students develop strong written and verbal communication skills, as well as research abilities. The school also offers a certificate program that requires 30 hours of coursework.

Accreditation:

  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Location:

4975 Hwy 51 North
Senatobia, Mississippi 38668-1714
8

Holmes Community College

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$2,360
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
48.31%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
69
School Type
2-year

Holmes Community College, which is one of the largest community colleges in Mississippi, has a paralegal technology program that specifically aims to prepare students to pass the CLA/CP certification examination administered by the National Association of Legal Assistants. In fact, the school even offers a course to help students review the material that can be found on each section of the exam.

Students who complete this program can earn an associate degree or a certificate. No matter which one they choose, Holmes gives them the opportunity to get hands-on experience by participating in an internship where they work in a supervised environment for at least 135 hours.

The paralegal associate degree program at Holmes Community College comes in at No. 5 on our affordability scale, which helped put it on our list.

Accreditation:

  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

Location:

#1 Hill Street
Goodman, Mississippi 39079
9

Broadview University-West Jordan

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$13,500
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
66.88%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
17
School Type
4-year

Broadview University-West Jordan offers a paralegal associate degree that focuses on coaching students to assist different types of attorneys, such as criminal, family, civil or bankruptcy lawyers. Thanks to its convenient online format, students in the program can take courses all year and easily incorporate them into their busy schedules.

The school also offers numerous resources to help online students succeed. Course materials can be obtained through the CampusConnect system, which also allows students to submit assignments and communicate with their professors. In addition, Broadview provides an orientation that helps students get accustomed to distance learning, as well as technical support to help them whenever they encounter problems.

Broadview University's best score in our metrics was its high prominence rating: No. 3 overall, out of all the schools we evaluated.

Accreditation:

  • Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools

Location:

1902 W. 7800 South
West Jordan, Utah 84088
10

SUNY College of Technology at Canton

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$7,855
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
57.20%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
10
School Type
4-year

SUNY College of Technology at Canton rounds out our list of the best online colleges for paralegal studies because of its strong prominence rating -- it came in No. 9 of the 68 schools we analyzed -- as well as its open admissions policy. It offers a bachelor's degree in legal studies that gives students a look at law principles paralegals should know to do their jobs, from common and administrative law, to the ethics that govern the profession, to emerging technologies used by paralegals. The college wants students to understand the nuts and bolts of working in a legal office and how the skills they learn in the program will benefit them in their daily work life.

Accreditation:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Location:

34 Cornell Drive
Canton, New York 13617-1098

Degree Overview: Paralegal & Legal Services

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.

Online Paralegal and Legal Services Courses

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.

  • Legal research and writing: These classes are dedicated to interviewing witnesses; using Westlaw and LexisNexis systems; describing rules of evidence and trial procedure; properly formatting legal citations; conducting business and financial searches; writing demand letters and promissory notes; and learning to understand case information and statutes.
  • E-discovery: E-discovery is the process where parties of a lawsuit share information electronically. In order to teach students how this process works, a course in this subject may include topics such as internal and external litigation holds, e-discovery plan strategies, metadata and its uses, data preservation and protection methods, and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
  • Criminal law: An essential component of this field, criminal law classes explore the role paralegals play when they assist attorneys with criminal cases. Students may be given information on the intake process; what happens during the pre-trial, trial, and post-trail stages of a criminal case; types of charges and defenses; and legal guidelines for obtaining evidence.
  • Professional ethics: Just as lawyers are expected to work by an ethical code of conduct, paralegals are expected to adhere to the guidelines of their profession. Courses in ethics might explain conflicts of interest, legal malpractice, the boundaries of the attorney-client relationship, unauthorized practice of law or what kinds of information are considered confidential.
  • Law office procedure: This class is designed to familiarize prospective paralegals with the realities of working in a legal environment. Associated subjects include file management, docket control, billing procedures, case management and types of legal office computer programs.

Career-Related Skills to Develop

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.

  • Writing: Paralegals are responsible for drafting a variety of documents, such as briefs, contracts, wills, pleadings and real estate closing statements. Strong writing skills are required to accurately convey the information needed in these documents.
  • Communication: In addition to communicating with attorneys they work for, paralegals also regularly communicate with clients and witnesses. They must have the skills to speak to people in a professional manner to be successful.
  • Technology: Budding paralegals can benefit from proficiency in several computer programs, such as LexisNexis CodeMaster, Thomson West ProLaw, LexisNexis CourtLink Strategic Profiles, Thomson Reuters LiveNote Stream, The Sackett Group MacPac for Legal, American LegalNet USCourtForms and ProForce Paralegal Pro-Pack.
  • Organization: Law offices are busy, so chances are good that paralegals will be assisting more than one attorney or helping with more than one case at a time. They must be able to juggle several tasks, meet various deadlines and adjust their schedules accordingly as needs change.

Paralegal Studies Specializations

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:

  • The National Association of Legal Assistants has a certification for those who pass a qualifying examination that covers areas such as legal research, industry ethics, contracts, civil litigation and communication.
  • The National Federation of Paralegal Associations offers the CRP™ and RP® certifications. In order to earn a CRP™, professionals must pass the Paralegal CORE Competency Exam™ (PCCE™), which is designed for those who are in the early years of their career. More seasoned professionals are eligible for the RP® certification, which requires a passing grade on the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam® (PACE®).
  • NALS offers the Professional Legal Secretary (PLS) and Certified Legal Professional (CLP) designations for those with three years of work experience, as well as the Professional Paralegal (PP) credential for people who have either completed an ABA-approved legal studies or paralegal studies program or have obtained five years of work experience.

Paralegal Studies Career Outlook

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.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Average Salary Average salary refers to the 2016 mean salary for all U.S. workers in this job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
$53,180
Projected Job Openings Projected job openings refers to the estimated number of job openings from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
82,700
Projected Job Growth Projected job growth refers to the estimated rate of increase in the number of jobs in this profession from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
7.6
Entry-level Education This refers to the typical entry-level education needed to obtain a position in a particular job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016
Associate degree

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.

Title Examiners, Abstractors, and Searchers
Average Salary Average salary refers to the 2016 mean salary for all U.S. workers in this job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
$51,490
Projected Job Openings Projected job openings refers to the estimated number of job openings from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
15,600
Projected Job Growth Projected job growth refers to the estimated rate of increase in the number of jobs in this profession from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
-0.3
Entry-level Education This refers to the typical entry-level education needed to obtain a position in a particular job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016
High school diploma or equivalent

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.

Legal Secretaries
Average Salary Average salary refers to the 2016 mean salary for all U.S. workers in this job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
$47,900
Projected Job Openings Projected job openings refers to the estimated number of job openings from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
22,700
Projected Job Growth Projected job growth refers to the estimated rate of increase in the number of jobs in this profession from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
-4.1
Entry-level Education This refers to the typical entry-level education needed to obtain a position in a particular job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016
High school diploma or equivalent

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.

Sources and Methodologies

Methodology

To be included in these rankings, all colleges had to meet the following criteria for the specific subject being ranked:

  1. Offer an undergraduate degree (either associate or bachelor's) in that subject online
  2. Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in 2014-15

Once we had our list of schools for each subject, we ranked them on five criteria:

  1. In-state tuition, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
  2. Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014
  3. Accessibility, based on the admissions rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014
  4. Program prominence, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2014-15 were in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
  5. Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered at any level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015

Sources:

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  2. Associate of Paralegal Studies, National Paralegal College, accessed March 2017, https://nationalparalegal.edu/Associates.aspx
  3. Degrees & Certificates, Cerro Coso Community College, accessed March 2017, https://www.cerrocoso.edu/academics/programs
  4. Bachelor of Science in Legal Support and Services, Kaplan University, accessed March 2017, http://www.kaplanuniversity.edu/legal-studies/legal-support-services-bachelor-degree.aspx
  5. Launch Your New Career in the Legal System with Miller-Motte's Online Paralegal Program!, Mille-Motte College, accessed March 2017, https://www.miller-motte.edu/campuses/online-college-courses-miller-motte/accredited-college-paralegal-program-online
  6. Alexandria College Online, Alexandria College, accessed March 2017, https://www.alextech.edu/academics/online-learning
  7. Paralegal Technology, Northwest Mississippi Community College, accessed March 2017, http://www.northwestms.edu/index.php/?page_id=1486
  8. Paralegal Technology, Holmes Community College, accessed March 2017, https://www.holmescc.edu/departments/technical/paralegal_technology/index.aspx
  9. Prepare For Your Career With Broadview's Online A.A.S. In Paralegal, Broadview University, accessed March 2017, http://broadviewuniversity.edu/online/paralegal-associate-degrees/
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  12. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2016, Title Examiners, Abstractors, and Searchers, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes232093.htm
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  15. Online Paralegal Associate Degree, Penn Foster College, Accessed June 2017, https://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/legal-services/paralegal-studies-associate-degree
  16. Paralegal Studies, Casper College, Accessed June 2017, http://www.caspercollege.edu/paralegal
  17. Paralegal Studies Associate in Science degree, Valencia College, Accessed June 2017, https://net1.valenciacollege.edu/future-students/degree-options/associates/paralegal-studies/
  18. Online Legal and Business Studies, National Paralegal College, Accessed June 2017, https://nationalparalegal.edu/
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Sources and Methodologies