Online Paralegal Degrees
Paralegals are legal professionals who assist lawyers with a variety of legal tasks. The job duties of a paralegal can widely vary depending on their practice area, but in general, a paralegal’s responsibilities include substantive legal work such as conducting research, drafting documents, communicating with clients, and analyzing data.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the paralegal field is growing at an above-average rate. Paralegal employers are increasingly seeking candidates who have a specific paralegal education.
There are a wide variety of paralegal programs available, ranging from Bachelor’s degrees offered by universities and designed for traditional college students, to evening-only community college programs tailed towards non-traditional students and career changers. Online paralegal schools provide a third option for those who are considering becoming a paralegal. Due to their emphasis on research and writing, online paralegal training programs are able to offer an education that’s substantially similar to those that take place in classroom settings.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Paralegal Online Degrees
The main advantage to online paralegal programs is their convenience. Although students completing online paralegal training programs are still required to complete assignments, take exams, and do projects, they are generally able to work on these at whatever time is convenient for them. Many paralegal students who have small children or work during the day appreciate this flexibility. Additionally, those completing online paralegal training programs save gas and time by not having to travel to and from class several times per week.
Another advantage is that those considering online paralegal schools will have many more choices, as they won’t be limited to paralegal programs that are located in their geographic area.
One disadvantage of completing a paralegal program online is the lack of in-person interaction. However, many online paralegal programs involve chat rooms or forums where students can (and sometimes are required to) participate in discussions with their classmates and professors. The instructors of online paralegal programs are generally very accessible via e-mail or phone, should students need assistance or have questions.
Students who choose to complete paralegal school online also need to have a certain level of self-motivation and discipline. It can be easier to neglect doing assignments and homework when there is no class to go to or instructor to face.
Online paralegal program options
- Associate's degrees
Paralegal Associates degrees take around two years to complete, and thus are often referred to as “two-year degrees.” They include general education courses as well as specific classes related to the area of study. Most paralegal Associate degree programs require a High School diploma or GED for admission, but assuming that condition is met, most accept all applicants. Associates degrees can be a good option for someone who is considering completing a Bachelor’s degree at a later time, as many of the courses taken should apply towards a future degree.
- Bachelor’s degrees
Paralegal Bachelor’s degrees usually take around four years to complete, although they could take slightly shorter or longer time depending on how full of a course load is taken. Bachelor’s degrees entail a larger portion of general education courses as well as a number of curriculum-specific classes. Almost all paralegal Bachelor’s degree programs will require a High School diploma or GED for admission, and some may have a competitive admissions process. Some larger law firms located in big cities prefer paralegal candidates who have Bachelor’s degrees, so paralegal Bachelor’s degrees could be a good option for someone who aspires to work in that type of environment.
- Paralegal Certificates
Another option for those looking to complete an online paralegal program is that of a paralegal certificate. There are numerous types of paralegal certificates available, from online-only schools that allow students to complete a paralegal certificate in as little as 3-4 months, to post-baccalaureate certificates that require a Bachelor’s degree and are designed for those switching careers.
Choosing an Online Paralegal School
Due to the large number of paralegal programs available, it’s important to carefully consider the details of any program before enrolling. One important consideration is that of paralegal school accreditation.
The national accrediting agency for paralegal programs is the U.S. is the American Bar Association. A directory of ABA-accredited paralegal schools is found on their website, at http://apps.americanbar.org/legalservices/paralegals/directory/. To obtain ABA-approval, a paralegal program has to meet specific criteria in areas such as curriculum, staff, enrollment, and resources, so choosing an accredited paralegal school helps insure that it will provide a valuable education. All types of programs, including online paralegal schools, are eligible for ABA-accreditation.
Those who are searching for information on how to become a certified paralegal online could be seeking information on one of a few different things. Nationally, there is no certification required for paralegals, so a certified paralegal could simply mean one who’s completed a paralegal certificate program.
However, several private organizations offer paralegal certification exams. Perhaps the best known is the National Association of Legal Assistants & Paralegals (NALA), which offers a well-respected professional certification for paralegals and legal assistants via their CLA/CP exam. More information can be found on their website at http://www.nala.org/certification.aspx.
Several other organizations offer paralegal certification exams. Information regarding certification options, as well as the somewhat controversial issue of paralegal regulation and certification by state, can be found on the American Bar Association’s website.