Training and courses for legal assistants are typically available through undergraduate certificate and degree programs in paralegal and legal assistant studies. In addition to intensive coursework, these programs may include an internship, which allows students to acquire necessary skills firsthand. Graduates of these programs may earn a certificate, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree.
Here are some concepts commonly explored in legal assistant courses:
- American Bar Association
- Organization of court systems
- Sources for legal research
- Legal memoranda
- Constitutional law
- Litigation procedures
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List of Common Courses
Introduction to Law Course
Upon entering a paralegal program, students generally take an introductory course that provides an overview of the legal system and the role of the legal assistant. Focus is placed on the structure of the American judicial system and fundamental skills that paralegals must possess. Students begin to learn legal terminology and acceptable ethical practices, while focusing on potential career options and employment settings within the field.
Legal Research Course
In order to be successful, legal assistants must be able to utilize a number of resources for research and analysis. This course covers traditional library and computer-based research, as well as alternative sources, including court reports, encyclopedias, periodicals and more. Students gain hands-on experience using research tools and also learn different research methods within the legal domain. Specific research centers on background, facts and validation.
Legal Writing Course
On top of research, paralegals must be able to write up legal documents. Although writing is sometimes tacked on to a research course, many programs teach these skills separately to provide a better understanding of each. During a legal writing course, students gain experience with basic formatting, writing and editing techniques, while learning about specific documents, including legal briefs, memoranda and pleas.
Civil Litigation Course
Later on in a legal assistant program, students begin to learn about specific legal processes. One of the first covered is civil litigation. The main focus of this course is trial preparation, which might include dealing with demands from the opposing party and collecting witness statements. Paralegals must gather and organize evidence prior to a case, and this course provides hands-on practice.
Criminal Law and Procedure Course
Although there are several different types of law that paralegal programs might touch upon, criminal law is fairly standard. During this course, students gain knowledge of constitutional law regarding citizens' rights. Common offenses are evaluated through the use of case studies, and the trial process is focused on as a whole, from specific defenses against charges to investigation and, finally, sentencing.