Individuals seeking a career in the paralegal field typically do so through undergraduate education programs; however, those who already have bachelor's degrees and are interested in paralegal studies may opt to complete a graduate program. Although online master's degree programs for paralegals are available, post-baccalaureate or graduate certificates are much more common. Graduate certificate programs primarily focus on helping students land an initial paralegal position, while master's degree programs are usually designed for experienced paralegals who want to advance or update their legal knowledge and skills.
Coursework in master's degree programs provides in-depth study in certain areas of law or may allow students to focus their studies in a particular legal area. Master's degree programs take about two years to complete.
Students in paralegal programs gain advanced legal education and the skills needed to support attorneys and staff members within all areas of the legal system. Online curricula are usually designed to match the content of on-campus programs, and some programs require students to complete a practicum in an approved legal setting. The coursework in an online master's program combines philosophical, historical, and theoretical approaches to law. It contains advanced courses covering written and oral communication, research analysis, ethics, and legal technology. Students may also be required to complete independent projects resulting in a substantial research paper. They undertake rigorous study of legal writing and research, litigation and corporate law, as well as the following courses:
- Administrative law
- Government contracts law
- International trade
- Intellectual property law
- Prosecution and litigation
Online students utilize an online-based educational platform to complete assignments and access materials; therefore, they must meet hardware, software and Internet requirements to enroll. Virtual classroom environments allow students to view lectures and interact with instructors or classmates through e-mail or discussion boards. It is not uncommon for distance learning paralegal studies programs to hold live virtual class sessions using voice or video conferencing technology. This gives students the chance to not only connect with their instructors and fellow students but also have an opportunity to build oral communication skills important for working as a paralegal.
Online master's degree and graduate certificate programs in paralegal studies enable students who earned their bachelor's degrees in other fields to train to become paralegals. These programs also offer current paralegals the chance to improve their communication skills and legal expertise so that they can support lawyers more effectively.