Undergraduate Law Programs Overview

Undergraduate students interested in law-related training in areas such as research and business can pursue an associate degree in paralegal studies or a bachelor's degree with a pre-law track.

Essential Information

A 2-year associate degree program in paralegal studies looks at the American legal system and law office procedures. Students of this program might complete an internship. Pre-law bachelor's degree programs generally take four years to complete. Students learn about constitutional law and jurisprudence. Graduates of bachelor's programs interested in becoming licensed lawyers can continue their education by enrolling in a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree program.

Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies

Associate in Arts or Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies degrees are available to undergraduates who are interested in working as legal assistants or paralegals. Students are provided with an understanding of the American legal system and how it works. They learn how to conduct legal research and write legal briefs under the direction of a licensed attorney, how to prepare legal documents, and how to perform various administrative duties common to working in a law office. The paralegal studies curriculum is often tightly focused on topics related to the federal, state, and local legal system. Students may be required to take the following:

  • Litigation
  • Interviewing and investigations
  • Computation
  • Legal communication
  • Legal research
  • Law office management

Bachelor's Degree with Pre-Law Emphasis

While law schools do not typically require that applicants hold a bachelor's degree in a specific major, many colleges and universities offer bachelor's degree options with a pre-law emphasis for students who want to pursue careers as attorneys. This may be a formal pre-law track within a degree program or simply access to specialized academic advisement. Career preparation programs and services in pre-law programs may include legal workshops, pre-law student organizations, or assistance with the law school admissions process, including preparation for the required Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

Pre-law advising is not usually restricted to any specific major course of study. Several subjects, such as political science, criminal justice, sociology, and English, may be recommended, along with course suggestions that stress critical reading, quantitative reasoning, problem solving, independent research, time management, and effective writing. Some schools offer a set pre-law curriculum that is flexible enough to be completed as part of a variety of majors. Other schools offer a legal studies minor that includes classes in government, law, and politics. The courses that students in this program take may differ depending on their chosen major. Nonetheless, courses in certain topics that may be particularly beneficial to aspiring law school students. These may include:

  • Constitutional law
  • Business law
  • Jurisprudence
  • Philosophy of law
  • Economics
  • Psychology

Popular Career Options

While many law school graduates do go on to become licensed, practicing attorneys, others may find employment in other professional settings, working in fields like criminal justice, energy, financial services, human resources, insurance, regulatory affairs, management, or real estate. Some careers may require additional training or education. Career options other than attorney may include estate tax examiner, mediator, arbitrator, legal investigator, law librarian, bankruptcy analyst, contract negotiator, and environment policy analyst.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), paralegals and legal assistants could expect to see 8% employment growth between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). The agency also reported that paralegals could find work at law firms, corporate legal departments, banks, title companies, insurance companies, or real estate companies. In May 2015, the BLS reported that paralegals and legal assistants earned a median annual salary of $48,810.

Continuing Education

Working paralegals may pursue voluntary professional certification through organizations like the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc., National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), and National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS). Each of these organizations offers its own certification credential, which typically requires a minimum of education, work experience, and passing an exam. Certification is usually valid for several years and renewal requires continuing education.

Students who complete a pre-law program may apply to law schools and earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, a first professional degree. This typically takes three years and the curriculum covers contracts, property, torts, litigation, legal research and writing, business law, criminal law, and property law. Concentrations are commonly available in areas such as constitutional law, health law, business law, and intellectual property law. Upon completion of law school, graduates typically take the required bar exam for the state in which they want to practice law.

Lawyers who would like to continue their education at the graduate level may earn a Master of Laws (LL.M.) or Doctor of Science of Law (J.S.D.) degree. Areas of specialization may include international business law, litigation and arbitration, corporate law, information law, taxation, environmental law, or legal theory.

Those seeking a career in law can take 2-year associate degree and 4-year bachelor's degree programs. Graduates of paralegal studies can find work as paralegals and legal assistants, or continue their education via law school to pursue a career as a lawyer.

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