Online associate's degree programs in paralegal studies are available to those who hold a high school diploma or the equivalent. These programs are available fully online as well as in hybrid formats. Applicants may have to submit scores from the SAT, ACT, or other placement tests. Additionally, graduation may require an on-site internship.
Paralegals and legal assistants typically hold an associate's degree in legal studies, an associate's degree in another field with a bachelor's degree in legal studies, or a bachelor's degree in another field with an educational certificate in legal studies.
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Associate's Degree in Paralegal Studies
Students who complete an online associate's degree program in paralegal studies are trained in legal terminology and the application of legal ethics in the performance of their duties. They learn the rules of discovery, procedure, and the presentation of evidence. They are trained to prepare legal correspondence, interpret and assist in the preparation of various legal writings and are capable of applying technology skills to the legal process. Paralegals become familiar with the use of traditional and electronic legal reference materials, including the LexisNexis database, and how to effectively employ the information gained.
Prerequisites include a high school diploma or GED. In many cases, SAT or ACT scores may be required. In others, placement tests in mathematics and English may be required, along with an interview and application essay.
Program Information and Requirements
Students can complete the degree program in 15-48 months. Most programs are offered entirely online, although at some schools, students have the option of dividing their coursework between online and in-person elements. Other programs may involve an internship in a law office as part of the curriculum. Students communicate with the faculty and with each other through discussion groups and online messaging.
Technical requirements include a computer with high-speed Internet access. Internet Explorer 7.0, Safari 2.0 and Firefox 3.0 are recommended browsers.
Typically, students are required to take at least 24 credits of general education courses, which can include subjects such as mathematics, history, government, written communication, public speaking, sociology, economics, and management information systems. The remaining 36-50 credits are taken up by law-related courses.
Introduction to Law
The use of primary and secondary sources in the production of written assignments is the focus of this course. The issues stressed include ethics, confidentiality, conflict of interest, and the limits of authorized practice of law. Federal courts, state courts, and the American legal system are examined.
This course provides instruction in the administrative skills used in the operation of a law office. Among the topics covered are legal terminology, filing procedures, client billing, law office ethics, and the preparation of legal documents in compliance with state requirements.
Torts and Civil Litigation
Students in this class learn to draft pre-trial and post-trial documents. Tort actions and procedural rules as they relate to lawsuits, litigation, settlement, and dispute resolution are examined.
Real Estate Law
Students learn the processes involved in transferring interest in real property. An understanding of deeds, mortgages, easements, ownership, liens, eviction procedures, and landlord-tenant relationships is one of the main outcomes of this course.
Wills, Estates and Trusts
This course focuses on the fundamentals of estate planning. Topics include federal estate and gift taxation, gifts trusts, life insurance, and property transfers. The proper techniques of will and trust preparation are examined along with probate and closing an estate. All basic issues involved in inheritance are explored.
Graduates are prepared for entry-level positions as corporate or litigation paralegals either in private law firms, government agencies, banks, accounting firms, insurance companies, real estate firms, or property management concerns. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job openings for paralegals and legal assistants are expected to increase 8%, as fast as average for all occupations, between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). As of May 2015, the BLS reported a median annual salary of $48,810 for paralegals and legal assistants.
Continuing Education Information
Although neither licenses nor certifications are legally required in order to practice as a paralegal, some employers may insist on certification. Voluntary certifications are available through various professional organizations, by way of qualifying examinations or a certain amount of experience in the field.
The National Association of Legal Assistants offers the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) and Certified Paralegal (CP) designations. The American Alliance of Paralegals offers the American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) designation upon completion of five years of paralegal experience. The National Association of Legal Secretaries offers the Professional Paralegal (PP) designation upon passing a 4-part examination.
Graduates who continue their education and earn a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies and have two years of experience in the field are eligible to sit for the Registered Paralegal (RP) examination, administered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.
Participation in seminars hosted by professional organizations may contribute to continuing education credit and enhance advancement possibilities to supervisory or managerial positions.
Online associate's degree programs in paralegal studies teach students about legal document preparation, the steps involved in various legal procedures and law office ethics. Direct experience is gained through internships.