Associate's, bachelor's and master's degree programs in legal studies are widely available in fully online and hybrid formats. In addition to distance learning courses in legal theory and legal research methods, students may be able to complete internships with law offices in their respective areas. Hybrid programs may require on-campus attendance for certain courses. While most programs are sufficient preparation for aspiring paralegals, some bachelor's programs can also prepare students for admission to law school.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most legal assistants and paralegals hold either an associate's degree in paralegal studies or a bachelor's degree in another field with a certificate in paralegal studies.
Associate Degree in Legal Studies
Online associate degree programs in legal studies prepare students to meet the minimum educational requirements for work as a paralegal. These programs provide a general overview of the knowledge and skills necessary to organize case files and manage billing records. Some programs may prepare students for advanced legal studies degrees.
These programs require students to have a GED or high school diploma prior to enrollment. Most can be completed entirely online in about two years of full-time study. Some may require students to complete an internship with a law office.
Students can complete coursework with a reliable broadband Internet connection and a computer that is running an up-to-date operating system. Some schools utilize interactive course management software, like Blackboard, to distribute and collect assignments and administer exams.
List of Popular Online Courses
Online associate degree curriculum typically includes general education courses in addition to basic law courses. Some programs may also require students to complete business courses.
Introduction to Law and Ethics
This course teaches students the basic principles of law and their ethical implications. Topics of discussion may include professional codes of conduct or how paralegals are affected by attorney-client privilege.
Students gain hands-on experience drafting legal documents such as briefs, memos and summons. They also learn how to use written and electronic law resources.
Students in this course learn the basics of what defines intellectual property, such as patents and works of art or literature. Students also learn how it is protected by federal law.
This class focuses on the way the family is defined, protected and handled by state, local and federal governments. Students discuss marriage and divorce, child custody and liability.
Bachelor's Degree in Legal Studies
Online bachelor's degree programs in legal studies are also designed to provide students with the background necessary to become paralegals or, with experience, law office managers. Program graduates may also become law clerks who prepare legal documents or take on added research responsibilities. Some of these programs allow students to select an area of concentration, such as business law, general law or criminal law. Others offer a core curriculum to prepare students for admission to law school programs.
Most online bachelor's degree programs in legal studies require students to complete around 180 credit hours of coursework. These credit hours are split between a core curriculum and electives based on the personal interests of each student. Many schools offering legal studies programs require students to take courses both online and on-campus.
The online portion of a legal studies program requires students to have access to a reliable Internet connection. Students may also need to download PDF readers and Flash players to access course materials. Microsoft Office and Windows Media Player software may also be required.
List of Popular Online Courses
The curriculum for an online bachelor's degree program includes core classes in English, math and writing in addition to legal studies electives. Some programs may also require students to complete a self-directed research project in a senior capstone course.
Law and Society
This class teaches students how different societies have developed and revised legal systems. Topics include theories of law, applications of law and ways law can be a vehicle for social change.
Students in a commercial law course study the legal aspects of business transactions. The course analyzes both the business and consumer sides of commercial law.
Criminal Procedure and Evidence
A criminal procedure and evidence course discusses criminal rights under the U.S. Constitution. Legal proceedings in a courtroom and the basic underlying concepts of criminal prosecution and defense are also discussed.
Law Office Management
This course covers the practical and legal issues involved with establishing and managing a law office. Topics include billing, record keeping and ethics.
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Master's Degree in Legal Studies
These relatively rare online graduate programs are designed for students who have completed a related bachelor's degree program. Completing a master's degree program in legal studies qualifies students to earn more as paralegals as well as managing law offices.
Program Information and Details
Schools that offer master's degree programs in legal studies rarely require students to attend courses on campus. The entire program can be completed online. Because all courses are not offered every semester and students must complete their classes in sequence, it takes most students about three years to complete an online master's degree in legal studies.
Students interested in online master's degree programs must have an updated Internet browser in addition to media player plug-ins that will allow them to download course materials available in audio and video formats. Most schools offer courses in real time using online conferencing software. Students may also work at their own pace. Common software requirements include Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Windows Media Player.
List of Popular Online Courses
Online master's degree programs in legal studies offer a variety of advanced courses that cover different types of law and the legal process.
Law and Politics
Students explore the political implications of policy decisions. Students also discuss how court decisions affect the status of minority populations.
Public Affairs Writing
This course discusses the writing styles used when creating press releases or memos to be viewed by the public. Students also learn how to compose fact sheets and literary reviews.
Theories of Justice
This class presents a handful of theories that address the meaning of justice. Students in this course discuss the philosophical basis of such theories and how they inform contemporary practice.
Career Information for Graduates
The BLS projected that employment opportunities for paralegals, also known as legal assistants, were expected to grow 8% during the 2014-2024 decade, which is just as fast as the average for all occupations. The BLS also expects that paralegals with formal training and experience should have the best opportunities.
According to the BLS, annual wages of paralegals vary according to the size and location of their employer. Experience and education also factor into earnings potential. Paralegals earned a median annual wage of $48,810 in May of 2015, according to the BLS. Those working for the federal executive branch earned a mean wage of $66,840 during the same year. Judicial law clerks earned a median annual salary of $50,740 as of May 2015.
Graduates of bachelor and master's degree programs in legal studies are typically qualified to work as paralegals or managers of law offices. The highest-earning ten percent of paralegals earned over $79,010 in May of 2015, according to the BLS.
Continuing Education Opportunities
Associate degree holders looking to continue their legal studies education at a higher degree level will find that many schools offer online and on-campus bachelor's degree programs. Bachelor's degree programs typically accept credits completed at the associate level and allow students to focus on specific areas of law.
Once an individual has earned a bachelor's, graduate level degrees are also possible at the master's degree level. These programs allow students to continue with their undergraduate concentration by providing advanced electives in various areas of legal studies.
There are a wide variety of online legal studies programs available at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels. These programs may require an internship and typically explore subjects such as ethics, family law, business law, criminal law and law office management.