Certificate Program in Paralegal Studies: Overview and Information

Paralegal certificate programs provide students with a fundamental understanding of the United States legal system. Discover how this program prepares students to be a certified paralegal, and learn information on employment and continuing education.

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Essential Information

Paralegal studies certificate programs are designed for students who already possess some education through an associate's or bachelor's degree. Programs may be approved by the American Bar Association (ABA), and some programs include an internship component that students must complete to graduate. Online courses and programs are available. Coursework within this program examines legal writing, criminal law and U.S. court systems. While certification isn't required to work in the field, those that meet specific education and experience requirements can earn these credentials to demonstrate professional expertise.

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Professional Certificate in Paralegal Studies

Paralegal studies certificate programs are often pursued by students looking to transition to the paralegal profession, or by practicing paralegals seeking advancement. These programs normally take two years to complete. Enrolled students are trained to understand the U.S. court system, prepare legal documents for civil lawsuit cases, draft memoranda, perform legal research, analyze case facts and interview clients. Many certificate programs are approved by the ABA and qualify students for entry-level positions at law offices, governments, nongovernmental agencies and businesses.

Applicants to certificate programs should have some level of college education and transcripts. Students from outside the U.S. may be required to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for admission, depending on country of origin.

Coursework in a paralegal studies program is designed to give students basic background in specific areas of the law, such as criminal law and family law, and to train them to perform a range of support tasks for lawyers. Common topics include:

  • Civil procedures
  • Computer applications for paralegals
  • Estates
  • Legal writing and research
  • Litigation
  • Trial preparation

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), total employment of paralegals and legal assistants is expected to grow 8%, or about as fast as the average for all professions, from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). In those years, the BLS predicts that paralegals will begin to take on more responsibilities traditionally associated with lawyers.

Law firms are the largest employers of paralegals, although many other paralegals work for corporations, insurance firms and banks. In May 2015, the BLS stated that the mean annual wage for all paralegals and legal assistants was $52,390.

Continuing Education and Certification Info

The BLS states that, although certification is not required by most paralegal employers, it can enhance paralegals' career prospects. Certification is available through a number of professional organizations in the field; depending on the organization that confers the certification, paralegals may be able to attain status as a Certified Paralegal (CP), Registered Paralegal (RP) or Professional Paralegal (PP). Most of these professional organizations confer certification based on criteria related to education and experience. Applicants may have to pass an exam to obtain initial certification and then complete continuing education requirements in order to renew it.

Those wishing to pursue a career as a paralegal may be interested in a professional certificate in paralegal studies. This program uses courses in specific areas of law to give students the necessary skills and knowledge to advance in their career.

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