Online associate degree programs in paralegal studies are available in fully online formats through several community colleges and technical schools. These programs typically take about two years to complete and may include an internship opportunity. Online certificate and bachelor's programs are also available.
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Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies
Online associate degree programs in paralegal studies help students develop skills in research, analysis and communication. Students learn how to assist lawyers in tasks such as drafting legal documents, interviewing witnesses and preparing presentations. Many schools offer online paralegal studies programs, such as the Associate in Applied Science in Paralegal Studies. Students can find related certificate programs available fully online as well.
Program Information and Requirements
Typically, an online associate degree in paralegal studies can be completed in about two years, with most associate degree programs requiring 60 credit hours for completion. Online courses utilize interactive learning technology, such as real-time chat. Students need an up-to-date computer and an internet connection to access course syllabi, assignments and lectures. Students may have the option to upload eBooks from digital libraries. Some schools require students to complete an online orientation.
List of Common Paralegal Studies Courses
In addition to general education requirements, such as math, English composition and psychology, students may complete classes in specialized substantive law, legal communications and public speaking. Programs generally emphasize legal writing, legal research and ethics, as well as specific branches of law, such as business and contract law, family law, torts and probate law.
Legal Research and Writing
Students learn the essentials of legal research and gain exposure to legal research software. Building upon their research, students acquire strategies for writing legal correspondence, briefs and pleadings.
In this class, students examine codes and procedures for ethical practice as a paralegal. Additionally, students practice analyzing and applying legal restrictions in complex ethical situations that may arise during a paralegal career.
This course explores the hierarchy of federal and state court systems, as well as overviews the rules of civil procedure applicable to each court. Students acquire experience preparing documents and gathering information in all phases of civil litigation, including discovery, pre-trial, trial and appeal.
Career Information for Graduates
Associate holders may opt to work as legal assistants for private law firms or paralegals for a department of the U.S. federal government, such as the U.S. Department of Justice. The BLS predicts the addition of 21,200 paralegal and legal assistant jobs in the decade 2014-2024. In 2015, the annual wage of the middle 50% of the 271,930 paralegals and legal assistants employed nationally was $37,880-$62,590. However, certification, region and experience are strong influencers of salary potential.
Continuing Education Information
Several organizations offer certification designations for paralegals and legal assistants. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers certification as a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) and Certified Paralegal (CP). CLA and CP are interchangeable, so those who qualify can choose which designation they prefer. The standards for certification require completion of NALA's certification exam and specific educational and professional experience requirements. NALA also offers its own Advanced Paralegal Certification (APC) in specialized legal areas, such as contracts, personal injury and trademarks.
The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. offers the designation American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP). Requirements for this certification include a minimum of five years experience and one of three possible education pathways.
Additionally, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) designates the Registered Paralegal (RP). To qualify, candidates must have achieved one of three education and experience pathways and must pass NFPA's Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE).
Online associate's degree programs in paralegal studies provide students with an introduction to the legal field and help them build the skills they need to support lawyers. Graduates are also prepared to take legal certification tests.