Diploma programs for legal assistants, paralegals and legal secretaries are typically offered through community colleges, and some are available online. These programs normally take 2-3 semesters to complete, and they prepare graduates to assist in a variety of different legal specializations, such as civil litigation or criminal law. Most programs require incoming students to have a high school diploma or equivalent.
Diploma in Legal Assisting
Voluntary certification options are available for graduates, but not required to gain entry-level jobs. Curricula balances topics in law and legal procedure with topics pertaining to clerical duties. Some programs may offer internship opportunities. Coursework could include:
- Probate administration
- Legal systems and editing
- Civil procedures
- Juvenile law
Popular Career Options
Graduates may find entry-level employment in law offices, government offices, law libraries and legal divisions of companies. While many paralegals handle a wide range of tasks, some who work in large firms may specialize in a particular branch of law. Here are some possible career positions:
- Legal secretary
- Paralegal secretary
- Corporate paralegal
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that an 8% increase in jobs was projected for paralegals and legal assistants from 2014 to 2024. This category earned an average income of $52,390 per year, per May 2015 figures from the BLS. During the same decade, legal secretaries were to see a 4% decline in jobs. As of 2015, legal secretaries made $46,470 annually, on average.
Continuing Education and Certification Information
According to the BLS, many paralegals acquire associate's degrees prior to seeking employment (www.bls.gov). Associate's degree programs that specialize in paralegal training are offered at many colleges and universities, and they may have curricula that overlap significantly with those offered by diploma programs.
Graduates may wish to earn voluntary certifications, such as the Certified Paralegal and Certified Legal Assistant credentials, in order to validate their skills and better compete for jobs. These certifications are offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), and individuals who want to become certified need to meet education and work experience requirements.
For paralegals who wish to specialize in a particular branch of law, NALA offers the Advanced Paralegal Certification. The American Alliance Certified Paralegal is offered through The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. to those who have met specific education requirements and have at least five years of paralegal experience. The National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS) offers the Professional Paralegal (PP) certification to individuals who pass a special examination.
Some colleges and universities offer bachelor's degree programs that specialize in paralegal training, and a bachelor's degree stands as a prerequisite to obtain the Registered Paralegal (RP) designation offered through the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA).
Students in legal assisting diploma programs take courses designed to improve their keyboarding and writing skills as well as familiarize them with legal proceedings. After graduating, they can pursue entry-level careers, undergraduate degree programs or professional certification.