Paralegals are integral to the legal system. They conduct research, prepare documents, and help ensure law firms operate efficiently. Thanks to the valuable support of paralegals, lawyers can better serve their clients. If you’re detail-oriented, thrive under pressure, and have a knack for problem-solving, a paralegal career could be a great fit. You can enter the field with an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or certificate program. Start a search today to find the top paralegal degrees to jumpstart your career.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
A paralegal, also referred to as a legal assistant, plays a vital role in the legal field. They assist attorneys by taking care of a range of tasks that include but are not limited to:
- Conducting legal research
- Drafting documents
- Organizing and maintaining files
- Gathering and arranging evidence for attorney review
- Assisting with preparation for trials and hearings
Essentially, they help streamline the legal process, ensuring that cases run smoothly and efficiently.1
How Much Does a Paralegal Make?
The median salary for paralegals and legal assistants is $56,230.2 However, earnings can vary significantly depending on the industry. For instance, paralegals working in the federal government earn a median annual salary of $69,680, while those in the finance and insurance sector earn a median annual salary of $64,740.3 These figures help illustrate the financial potential of a paralegal career.
What Skills Does a Paralegal Need?
There are a few skills and personality traits that can help paralegals succeed. Here are a few of those skills and traits:
- Research skills: A substantial part of a paralegal’s role involves conducting legal research. They need to be adept at navigating legal databases, case law, and legal journals to find relevant information.
- Written communication: Paralegals are often responsible for drafting legal documents, such as contracts, wills, and pleadings. As such, they must possess excellent written communication skills, ensuring all documents are clear, concise, and free from errors.
- Attention to detail: Given the nature of legal work, even a small error or oversight can have significant consequences. Paralegals must have a keen eye for detail.
- Organization: Paralegals often juggle multiple cases at once, each with different timelines and requirements. Strong organizational skills, including the ability to manage time effectively and maintain orderly records, are crucial.
- Ethics: Paralegals are expected to adhere to the same professional ethical standards as attorneys. They must maintain client confidentiality, avoid conflicts of interest, and conduct all tasks with integrity.
Paralegal degree programs are specifically designed to help prospective paralegals develop and refine these essential skills.4
Associate in Paralegal Degree Programs
An associate degree in paralegal studies is a popular entry point into the profession. It provides students with a solid foundation in law, ethics, and procedures. Here are some top programs to keep in mind:
- Keiser University: This is a comprehensive program covering a wide range of legal topics with a focus on practical application. Students have lauded this program for its supportive faculty and real-world approach to learning.
- Liberty University: This online program has a comprehensive curriculum with a strong focus on developing practical skills. The program’s flexibility makes it a great choice for students who want to balance their studies with other commitments.
- Holmes Community College: Known for its affordability, this program is also known for providing excellent job placement assistance. Its strong ties with law firms make it an attractive choice for job seekers.5
Bachelor’s in Paralegal Degree Programs
A bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies provides a more in-depth study of law and can potentially open doors to higher-level paralegal positions. Here are some noteworthy programs to consider:
- Auburn University: This is a program with a strong reputation and a comprehensive curriculum that includes an internship opportunity. The real-world experience provided by the internship component is invaluable for students.
- Quinnipiac University: This program is known for its high academic standards and emphasis on professional ethics. The program’s focus on ethics sets it apart and prepares students to handle the ethical complexities of the legal field.
- Montclair State University: This is a unique program that combines paralegal studies with justice studies, allowing for a broader career scope. It’s an interdisciplinary approach that provides students with a versatile set of skills.6
Certificate in Paralegal Degree Programs
For those with a degree in another field, a certificate program can offer specialized legal knowledge and skills. Some popular programs to have on your radar include:
- Penn Foster: Known for its affordability and flexibility, this program is a good fit for working professionals. The convenience and flexibility make it a great choice for those juggling work and education.
- Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College: This program offers a robust curriculum with an option to complete it fully online. Its online option is excellent for students who require more flexibility in their learning schedule.
- Eastern Kentucky University: This school has a paralegal certificate that can be earned entirely online with a comprehensive curriculum. The program’s approach ensures students are well-prepared for the demands of a paralegal career.7
Choosing the Right Program for Your Goals
When it comes to selecting the right program for you, consider your career goals, budget, and available time. If you aim to enter the field quickly, an associate degree or certificate program might be the right fit. If you want a higher earning potential, a bachelor’s degree might be a better choice.
Always research programs thoroughly, considering their curriculum, faculty, reputation, cost, and support services. Remember, the key is to choose a program that aligns with your personal and professional objectives. Make this decision with care, so you can feel confident about your decision.