Many schools offer distance learning programs in paralegal studies at the associate's and bachelor's degree levels. While no programs specialize in Social Security law, students with paralegal training could work for attorneys who deal with Social Security cases. Some of these degree programs can be completed totally online, while others have some on-campus requirements or call for internships in a law office.
Both associate's and bachelor's degree programs in paralegal studies require students to complete general education courses such as mathematics, biology and English composition. An associate's degree usually requires two years of study, but some online programs can be completed in less time. Students get a general background in legal office procedures and learn about the judicial system, ethical issues and legal research and writing. They may take courses that include criminal law, estate planning and real estate law.
A bachelor's degree program offers a more expanded view of the paralegal's work in different areas of legal practice. Students may learn about pre-trial preparations and case management through a litigation course. They examine the civil rights protections all citizens have under the law and look at the criminal justice system. Most programs require that students gain experience through an internship in a law office.
Paralegal Associate's Degree
Most paralegals hold an associate's degree in paralegal studies. An associate's program teaches students about the different elements of legal procedures and covers various areas of law. This allows a student to get a well-rounded education in the law and the legal process. Programs typically offer most of the core paralegal courses fully online, but some schools may require on-campus attendance for general education courses.
Program Information and Requirements
Most programs can be completed in two years or less. Many online programs are offered in an accelerated format, which means they can be finished in a shorter period of time than on-campus programs. Courses are usually delivered through the school's online system, which includes interactive classrooms, message boards and virtual lessons.
Programs typically include general education courses, such as communications, mathematics and humanities. Other courses may cover specific areas of law, such as criminal, family or bankruptcy, and cover legal office procedures.
Legal Writing and Research
Due to the nature of the law, properly formatted and written documents are essential. Research is often a large part of a paralegal's job as they assist with case preparation. In this course, students learn the proper formatting of legal documents and how to research case law.
Confidentiality is a major issue when working in a legal setting. Legal ethics explores the idea of keeping case information private. This course also covers topics including timekeeping and client billing.
Introduction to the Legal System
Students can expect to learn about legal procedures, areas of law and the role of legal professionals within the system. Legal ethics and governmental impact on the law are also covered.
Paralegal Bachelor's Degree
Although an associate's degree is typically required for a career as a paralegal, some law firms and corporate businesses require paralegals to hold a bachelor's degree. A bachelor's program provides advanced education in various areas of law, including estate, criminal and bankruptcy. Students in a bachelor's program will also typically complete a capstone project and/or internship.
Program Information and Requirements
Bachelor's programs in paralegal studies usually take about four years to complete. Most of the courses are available fully online, but some courses and projects may be held on campus. Internships are common in a bachelor's program and require a student to work on-site in a legal office or other legal environment. Students may need to complete writing and reading skills exams before entering a program or to meet graduation requirements.
A bachelor's program usually includes general education courses in English, math and social science. The core courses typically focus on different areas of law and give students advanced training in each legal area. Additionally, programs usually have courses that allow students to study the legal system in-depth.
A litigation course covers the process of going to trial. This includes pre-trial work and case management. Document creation may also be covered in this course.
Criminal Procedures and Law
Criminal law deals with crimes and punishment. Students study different crimes and how innocence or guilt can be proven through using the written law and case studies. This course also covers the different criminal defenses.
A civil rights course covers the legal rights individuals have under the law and how such rights can be violated. Preservation of rights is also covered. Students may study the Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court landmark cases dealing with civil rights.
Paralegals may work for government agencies, corporations, law firms, non-profit organizations or in private practice. A paralegal must work under the supervision of a lawyer, and usually the area of law a paralegal works in is determined by the area of law in which the supervising lawyer works. For example, if a paralegal wants to work in Social Security law, then he or she would work with a lawyer who specializes in Social Security law.
In 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), paralegals and legal assistants held around 271,930 jobs (www.bls.gov). Most of those jobs, about 72%, were in private sector legal services.
The projected job growth for the period of 2014-2024 was 8%, about as fast as average, but it is important to note that the BLS expects job competition to be strong due to an increasing number of applicants. As of May 2014, the BLS reported the mean annual salary for paralegals and legal assistants was $52,390 compared to a mean annual salary of $136,260 for lawyers.
Continuing Education Information
Social Security law is one area in which a paralegal may work. Continuing education courses may be available to help a paralegal specialize in this area of law. A paralegal, after earning a bachelor's degree, may consider entering law school and specializing in Social Security law to start a career as a lawyer helping individuals with Social Security disability and survivor benefits claims.
Despite the fact that there are no online undergraduate degree programs that focus specifically on social security law, prospective students who are interested in basic legal training can pursue an online bachelor's degree program in legal studies. These programs provide the general education, legal knowledge and writing skills necessary to effectively support lawyers or to enroll in law school themselves.