Overview of Online Paralegal Certificate Programs
If you're looking to become a paralegal, online certificate programs are one way to improve your job prospects. Though not required to enter the field, these certificates could set candidates apart from others during the job hunt. Earning a paralegal certificate demonstrates that a candidate has the experience and knowledge that employers value.
Certificate programs are available entirely online or through hybrid formats and provide thorough instruction in topics that paralegals must understand on the job. Upon graduation, students can begin the job hunt immediately. Students who complete a hybrid program can also sit for the North Carolina Certified Paralegal Exam, a credential that is not required but can further improve job prospects.
Certificate Programs in Paralegal Studies in North Carolina
North Carolina is home to several schools that offer online paralegal certificate programs. These programs usually take a few months to complete and rarely last longer than a year. They contain robust curricula that focus on key topics in the legal field, such as legal research methods, civil litigation, and legal document preparation.
North Carolina State University
NC State partners with the Center for Legal Studies to offer a paralegal certificate program that can be completed entirely online. The program is divided into two sections, Paralegal I and Paralegal II, and must be completed in 14 weeks. Students have seven weeks to complete each section, and the sections must be taken consecutively. Paralegal I contains an introduction to paralegal studies and focuses on topics such as the history of the American legal system, paralegal ethics, and legal document preparation. Paralegal II delves into more advanced topics as it builds off Paralegal I, with courses covering advocacy techniques, legal authority, and legal research methods.
The University of North Carolina, Charlotte
The Charlotte campus of the University of North Carolina system offers a hybrid paralegal certificate program that features a variety of instructional styles. The curriculum contains more than 160 hours of in-class instruction, which are supplemented by 73 hours of online instructional activities. The certificate program begins by teaching students critical paralegal topics, such as legal research methods, litigation, and legal ethics. Having established these core competencies, the program then concludes by offering training in criminal law, commercial law, and real estate, among other topics. Graduates meet the educational requirements to sit for the state's voluntary paralegal certification exam.
Duke's paralegal certificate program is a completely online offering that allows students the flexibility to complete the program asynchronously. The only schedule requirement is that candidates must complete all work within one year of starting. The program features dynamic online learning tools, such as video tutorials, quizzes, writing labs, and templates applicable in all 50 states, not just North Carolina. Applicants to this program must have at least an associate's degree, but prior legal experience is not required.
Career Outcomes for Online Paralegal Certificate Programs
After earning an online paralegal certificate, graduates can either sit for the North Carolina Certified Paralegal exam or attempt to enter the workforce as paralegals, legal secretaries, or legal assistants, though keep in mind that these professionals also often have an associate or bachelor's degree.
Prospective legal assistants or paralegals could find a receptive job market that offers promising earning potential. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a median yearly salary of $50,940 as of 2018 for paralegals and legal assistants. The BLS also predicts a 12% job growth from 2018-2028, a rate that is much faster than the average for all other professions. The BLS notes that legal firms will continue to hire paralegals in an effort to improve efficiency, and a new trend of private companies increasing the size of their in-house legal team could also be beneficial to the job outlook of paralegals.
Online paralegal certificate programs are a fast way for aspiring paralegals to gain the skills and knowledge that are needed to work in this field. Several such programs, which can be completed entirely online and through hybrid formats, are available in North Carolina.