Paralegal Assistant Degree and Certificate Program Options

Aspiring paralegals can pursue associate's degrees or certificates that prepare them for entry-level work in the field. Learn more about common courses and program formats, and see employment prospects for graduates.

Essential Information

Associate degree programs combine general education with professional paralegal studies. These programs typically take two years to complete, and applicants need a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Certificate programs are designed for students who already hold an undergraduate degree. If you attend the program full time, you could complete your studies in 6-8 months, though most schools allow up to three years to finish all required coursework.

Both of these programs help students gain skills in legal writing, principles of investigation and trial preparation. Online courses are offered by some institutions.

Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies

An associate degree program in paralegal studies will prepare you to perform a wide range of legal tasks in a supportive role. These 2-year programs offer online or part-time, evening and weekend options. Some schools offer transferable credit, and an associate degree program can be used as a stepping-stone toward a bachelor's degree.

In addition to instructing about various types of law, courses teach how to perform legal research and draft legal documents. You might be able to apply your learned skills through a school-sponsored internship. Professional class topics include:

  • Paralegal studies and computer applications
  • Litigation preparation
  • Torts and investigations
  • Physical and intellectual property law
  • Family law
  • Criminal law

Certificate Program in Paralegal Studies

Certificate programs in paralegal studies are often available if you hold an undergraduate degree. The courses are offered in a variety of formats, including online, hybrid and on-campus. The paralegal certificate curricula are made up of courses emphasizing practical legal skills and types of law. Some programs offer brief internship opportunities to give you experience in a legal setting. Some course topics include:

  • Legal ethics
  • Legal research & writing
  • Civil litigation
  • Pre-trial preparation
  • Contracts
  • Commercial law

Popular Careers

After graduating with an associate degree in paralegal studies, you'll qualify to become a paralegal or legal assistant in law firms, local and federal courts, businesses and legal clinics. Though an academic program offers diverse education on laws and the legal profession, you can also specialize in the following areas:

  • Insurance
  • Employment law
  • Hearings and trials
  • Corporate law
  • International law
  • Property law and probate

Career Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), paralegal and legal assistant jobs are expected to see 8% employment growth during the 2014-2024 decade. As of May 2015, the BLS reported that the national median annual salary for paralegals and legal assistants was $48,810.

Continuing Education

Becoming an experienced paralegal with an associate degree will allow you to use your academic credit to enroll in a bachelor's degree program and continue your education into law school. Several schools allow previous paralegal training to satisfy fundamental bachelor's degree requirements. Once you earn a bachelor's degree, you can enter law school to enroll in a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree program to become a lawyer or pursue a post-baccalaureate certificate or master's degree in paralegal studies.

Voluntary, professional certification is available if you've completed a training program. After passing a certifying examination administered by the Association of Legal Assistants and Paralegals (NALA), you may use CLA (Certified Legal Assistant) or CP (Certified Paralegal) credentials following your name. Maintenance of certification requires completion of a number of hours of continuing legal education on a 3-year cycle.

Paralegal training is most commonly acquired through associate degree programs and certificate programs. Graduates of these programs are prepared for entry-level paralegal jobs. They can also obtain voluntary legal assisting certification, which tends to be viewed favorably by employers.

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