Paralegal
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The legal services industry is diverse, complex, and competitive—an integrated system of law practices in varied areas, including civil law, business law, real estate law, employment and labor law and more. This system employs nearly 600,000 lawyers in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—lawyers that need the support and services of paralegals. A major industry itself, paralegal services employs approximately 271,000 individuals across the country. The following guide serves as an introduction to paralegal education, including a review of educational options, types of paralegal programs, curriculum, certification, as well as an interview with a senior litigation paralegal with more than 20 years of experience in the field.

Paralegal Schools and Programs

The role of the paralegal has continued to expand during the past thirty years and, in that role, paralegals function similarly to lawyers. Except for responsibilities barred by the scope of legal statutes, such as representing clients in court, providing legal advice, or setting legal fees, paralegals work in a variety of capacities under the supervision of a practicing attorney. Responsibilities vary by area of practice (e.g., corporate law, intellectual property, real estate), experience and business needs. For example, paralegals may do the following:

  • Coordinate case management
  • Draft court pleadings and discoveries
  • Assist in case planning
  • Conduct legal research
  • Interview clients
  • Draft correspondence
  • Analyze legal documents

A rapidly growing occupation, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 17 percent career growth nationwide between 2012 and 2022. Meeting that demand is the purview of paralegal schools and universities, which provide several educational paths to becoming a paralegal professional. Below is an overview of the different educational institutions that offer paralegal training and degree options.

Vocational Schools

Vocational schools, also known as career colleges, trade schools, or technical institutes, provide an array of career training programs designed to prepare graduates for entry-level employment opportunities. Many vocational schools offer diploma and certificate programs in paralegal studies, with some also offering associate degree educational tracks as well. Vocational schools typically offer instruction in paralegal certification. Certification can be completed in as little as six months, but could take up to 18 months to complete. Vocational paralegal certificate programs are designed to provide students with all necessary knowledge and skills to work as a paralegal in as little time as possible. Curriculum typically covers foundational subjects, such as criminal law, legal research, contracts, legal writing, ethics, contracts and administrative law. Some vocational schools may provide transferable credits that can be put toward an associate degree or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies.

Community Colleges

Community colleges, also known as junior colleges, offer both career-focused training and academic degree programs in a greater variety of professional fields than vocational schools. Students may choose from shorter certificate and diploma and two-year associate degree programs in paralegal studies at community colleges. According to graduation data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), community college programs graduated more than 9,600 students with degrees, diplomas or certificates in paralegal studies in 2013.

Community colleges offer Associate of Arts and Associate of Science in paralegal degree options for paralegal students. These programs are designed to be completed in a 24-month time frame, although study can take longer for some degree plans. Both the A.A. and A.S. of paralegal studies require accumulation of 60 credit hours before graduation. Many community colleges divide curriculum between general education courses, such as science, English, and math, and core courses specific to the paralegal field.

Graduates with paralegal associate degrees are typically eligible to take the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) certification examinations. According to graduation data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), community college programs graduated more than 9,600 students with degrees, diplomas or certificates in paralegal studies in 2013.

Four-year schools

Four-year institutions, including public and private universities, offer the most comprehensive selection of academic programs for prospective students. In the field of paralegal studies, these higher education institutions may provide a full slate of options, including certificate, diploma, associate, bachelor’s, and post-bachelor’s certificate programs. Curriculum is split between general education courses-such as English, math, and science, and specialized paralegal studies. Upon graduation, students should be equipped with industry-specific knowledge that will help them in the paralegal field. Students with a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies are eligible to sit for certification examinations given by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).

In 2013, four-year universities and colleges conferred slightly more than 7,300 degrees in paralegal studies, according to NCES.

2016-2017 Best Paralegal Schools

Finding the best paralegal school is vital for a prospective student’s academic success. Quality paralegal programs will have experienced instructors who are able to provide credible information while covering all of the industry-specific requirements. To help students find the best program that will meet their needs, we have found the top paralegal schools in the country by ranking them based on our criteria. Learn more about the best paralegal schools and programs for 2016-2017 in the list below.

Score Tuition & Fees Financial Aid % Total Programs Student-teacher Ratio Grad Rate
Score Tuition & Fees Financial Aid % Total Programs Student-teacher Ratio Grad Rate
1 Metropolitan Community College
99.82 20% 3 14:1 12%

Founded by the Nebraska State Legislature in 1974, Metropolitan Community College today serves 26,000 students from Douglas, Dodge, Sarpy, and Washington counties through its campus and online programs. The average age of students enrolling one- and two-year career programs is 27 years. The South Omaha Campus is home to the Associate in Applied Science degree in Paralegal Studies. The 102-credit degree program includes 36 hours in the paralegal major, along with 40 hours in optional requirements and electives. In the second year, paralegal students undertake an internship to complete their degree.

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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2 Cape Fear Community College
99.35 9% 3 13:1 14%

Cape Fear Community College serves more than 28,000 students in southeastern North Carolina from its campus at Wilmington. Its Paralegal Technology 75-credit curriculum leads to an associate in applied science degree. Intensive coursework prepares students for legal/research writing, supervised work in civil and commercial law, real property, family law, and wills/estates. The paralegal studies are rounded out with general education courses in public speaking, behavioral science, mathematics, and expository writing. CFCC also offers a 39-credit paralegal studies diploma. Students seeking specialties can undertake an 18-credit civil litigation track or real property track certificate program.

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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3 Cincinnati State Technical and Community College
99.04 11% 3 15:1 16%

Cincinnati State Technical and Community College is a is a public, two-year college offering over 100 associate degrees and certificates through divisions of Business Technologies, Health and Public Safety, Humanities and Sciences, and the Center for Innovative Technologies. Locations include the main Clifton campus, Middleton (Butler County), and the West Campus in Harrison. Offered through Cincinnati State's Clifton campus, the Paralegal Certificate program introduces students to the concepts and practices in general civil and criminal litigation. The college also offers a Legal Assistant program with studies leading to an Associate of Applied Business degree.

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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4 Johnson County Community College
98.25 18% 3 20:1 14%

Over 46,000 students attend Johnson County Community College, making its slate of undergraduate classes and 150 career/certificate programs among the largest selection among Kansas' two-year schools. Legal studies majors can pursue a 63-hour associate degree in paralegal studies or a 33-hour paralegal certificate. Both programs are anchored in the final semester with a supervised paralegal internship to help students integrate their learning in a practical setting. Degree-bound students must complete a minimum of 18 hours in legal specialty courses at JCCC. More than 15 law specialties make up the selection of paralegal elective courses.

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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5 South Piedmont Community College
97.85 7% 3 15:1 35%

As North Carolina's newest community college, South Piedmont Community College offers students college credit courses that lead to a diploma, a certificate, or an associate degree. Transfer degree programs culminating with the award of an Associate in Arts (AA) and Associate in Science (AS) degree are designed to meet requirements for entering a four-year North Carolina College or University with advanced standing. The Paralegal Technology program offers coursework for a 66-credit associate degree, a 37-hour diploma, or 18-hour certificate. The curriculum focuses on skills necessary for investigations, research, legal documentation, and legal office management.

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
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6 Cerro Coso Community College
97.51 2% 3 26:1 14%

Cerro Coso Community College offers students small class sizes and educational programs leading to associate degrees, vocational certificates and diplomas. For students aspiring to work as professional paralegals or legal assistants, CCCC's Paralegal Studies Certificate program prepares graduates for the workplace as well as for national examinations in the field. Coursework identifies and develops the skills necessary for the graduate to assist attorneys with client cases from beginning to end. The focus is on investigation methodologies, data analysis, legal document preparation, and pretrial materials. Students may choose to complete relevant coursework online.

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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7 Hinds Community College
97.48 22% 2 18:1 13%

Founded in 1917, today Hinds Community College is Mississippi's largest community college, serving 32,000 students from its six locations. The Paralegal Technology curriculum leads to an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in two years of study. Working students can take online classes or attend studies at the Raymond or Jackson campuses in the evening hours. HCC offers paralegal students free job placement services and preparation for voluntary certification through national examination. In addition to its Paralegal Technology program, HCC offers a two-year Court Reporting Technology program leading to an AAS degree.

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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8 Lakeland Community College
97.48 13% 3 16:1 8%

Lakeland Community College began as a call in 1964 by residents of Lake County seeking higher education opportunities. Today the community college offers programs to 21,000 students each year, with major academic divisions in arts and sciences and applied studies. LCC's department of paralegal studies offers academic pathways to an Associate of Applied Business degree in Paralegal Studies or a Paralegal Studies Certificate. The 61-63 credit associate degree program concludes in a final semester of workplace strategy seminars and legal internships. Program applicants must have a minimum high school diploma or equivalency.

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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9 Santa Fe Community College
97.34 8% 2 15:1 9%

More than 23,000 students a year enroll in associate degree, diploma and vocational certificate programs at Florida's Santa Fe Community College. The 64-credit Associate of Science in Legal Assisting degree program combines studies in legal research, law, and general office operations. The professional legal academic core includes classes in litigation, tort law, real estate and family law, and is complemented with social science, mathematics and humanities requirements. Students complete a 3 credit legal assisting internship in their final semester. For transfer students, Santa Fe CC maintains a strong academic relationship with the University of Florida, also located in Gainesville.

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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10 Casper College
97.29 42% 2 12:1 30%

One of the largest community colleges in the region, Wyoming's Casper College offers academic transfer degree programs, career training programs, and continuing education. The school has an academic selection of 113 two-year associate degrees and 42 one-year certificate programs. Paralegal students can choose a 60-credit Paralegal Studies A.A. degree designed to stand alone or be transferred to a four-year college program. Degree students are prepared to sit for the Certified Legal Assistant (C.L.A.) exam. Students who have already earned a bachelor's degree may enroll in CC's nine-month graduate paralegal certificate program.

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
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11 Front Range Community College
97.28 9% 3 20:1 18%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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12 Lee College
97.24 11% 2 13:1 21%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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13 Central Georgia Technical College
97.22 N/A 3 15:1 31%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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14 Pitt Community College
97.21 11% 2 17:1 13%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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15 Kilgore College
97.17 21% 2 17:1 17%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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16 Odessa College
97.05 32% 3 17:1 20%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
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17 Atlanta Technical College
97.04 33% 3 16:1 24%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
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18 Johnston Community College
96.67 4% 2 16:1 29%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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19 Milwaukee Area Technical College
96.42 N/A 3 12:1 13%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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20 Western Iowa Tech Community College
96.42 46% 2 17:1 20%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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21 Forsyth Technical Community College
96.33 N/A 3 13:1 14%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
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22 New Mexico State University - Alamogordo
96.25 41% 2 16:1 9%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
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23 Arizona Western College
96.22 20% 2 21:1 18%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
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24 Tidewater Community College
96.20 3% 3 22:1 14%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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25 Edison State Community College
96.10 16% 2 15:1 20%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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26 West Virginia Northern Community College
96.10 15% 2 16:1 12%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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27 Kansas City Kansas Community College
96.04 22% 1 13:1 20%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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28 Cerritos College
96.00 N/A 3 30:1 24%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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29 Chattanooga State Community College
95.96 9% 2 18:1 8%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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30 Hillsborough Community College
95.88 9% 2 23:1 24%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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31 Durham Technical Community College
95.87 3% 2 18:1 12%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
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32 Houston Community College
95.81 3% 3 22:1 11%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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33 Rhodes State College
95.80 15% 2 14:1 19%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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34 Central New Mexico Community College
95.70 15% 2 24:1 11%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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35 Guilford Technical Community College
95.70 5% 2 20:1 10%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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36 Columbus State Community College
95.65 20% 2 19:1 8%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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37 Naugatuck Valley Community College
95.61 16% 2 16:1 12%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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38 Halifax Community College
95.57 5% 2 11:1 26%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
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39 Bunker Hill Community College
95.54 1% 2 17:1 11%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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40 Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
95.45 1% 2 22:1 25%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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41 Lone Star College
95.43 13% 2 18:1 11%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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42 Spokane Community College
95.42 14% 2 17:1 26%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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43 Tulsa Community College
95.39 39% 1 17:1 14%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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44 Hutchinson Community College
95.38 59% 1 15:1 29%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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45 Middlesex Community College
95.36 16% 3 19:1 13%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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46 Itawamba Community College
95.33 52% 1 19:1 26%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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47 Irvine Valley College
95.33 N/A 3 29:1 38%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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48 El Paso Community College
95.31 3% 2 26:1 10%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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49 Clark College
95.30 11% 2 15:1 24%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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50 Tarrant County College District
95.28 11% 2 25:1 9%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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Score Tuition & Fees Financial Aid % Total Programs Student-teacher Ratio Grad Rate
Score Tuition & Fees Financial Aid % Total Programs Student-teacher Ratio Grad Rate
1 Madonna University
98.72 82% 4 11:1 36%

Founded as a Catholic and Franciscan institution in 1937, Madonna University is one of the nation's largest Franciscan educational institutions, serving 4,500 students. Paralegal students have the choice of three academic pathways: the Associate of Science degree in Paralegal Studies, and bachelor's degree in Paralegal Studies, or the Paralegal Studies Post-Baccalaureate Certification. The 40-credit associate degree program covers aspects of legal research, litigation preparation, and legal writing. In their final year, undergraduates select either a supervised legal internship or the completion of a Capstone legal seminar. The 64-credit Bachelors of Science in Paralegal Studies program also allows students to choose between an internship or Capstone project for graduation.

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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2 Hampton University
97.86 47% 3 9:1 59%

The Bachelor of Arts in Paralegal Studies program at Hampton University is an online, 4-year program which combines paralegal classes with a liberal arts foundation, preparing future paralegals and students wishing to go on to law school for their respective paths through the legal field. Students in the program must take 122 credits to graduate and the courses reinforce communication, research, and critical thinking skills. Graduates are eligible to work in a variety of locations including, but not limited to, law firms, government agencies, corporations, professional associations, banks, trade associations, and legal services offices. Hampton University also offers a 30 credit certificate program in Paralegal Studies for students looking for an option that can be completed within one academic year.

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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3 Colorado Mountain College
97.81 36% 2 13:1 N/A

Students looking for the flexibility of a paralegal program that's entirely online should take a look at the programs offered by Colorado Mountain College. With the choice of an associate program or a certificate program, students emerge prepared to perform basic legal tasks including research, documentation, conducting interviews, and trial preparation. Students who complete the 2-year program are even eligible to continue into the Bachelor of Applied Science in Leadership and Management program or transfer to Colorado Mesa University. The certificate program requires 36 credit hours while the AAS program requires a minimum of 63-64 credit hours for completion.

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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4 Utah Valley University
97.79 33% 4 22:1 17%

With a mission to "provide timely and career-ready education and skills training to aspiring paralegal professionals." the Legal Studies department at Utah Valley University offers several program options for students to that end. The choices are: Certificate of Proficiency in Legal Studies, Associate in Applied Science or Associate in Science in Legal Studies, and Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies. The certificate option can be completed with 21 credits, while the 2-year options require 61 (AS) or 63 (AAS), and the 4-year option requires 120 credits. Students can also take 24 Legal Studies credits to complete a Minor in Legal Studies.

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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5 Mount Saint Joseph University
97.78 99% 3 11:1 58%

The Department of Paralegal Studies at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio offers students the choice between a 2-year Associate of Arts and a 4-year Bachelor of Arts in Paralegal Studies. Their program has been approved by the American Bar Association and students learn to engage in a variety of paralegal tasks including: client interviews, data acquisition, drafting legal documents, and researching cases and legal materials. After completing general courses, students seeking their 2-year degree must complete 30 credits in the paralegal studies program; students seeking their 4-year degree must complete 42 credits within the program.

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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6 Bay Path University
97.54 100% 3 12:1 50%

Approved by the American Bar Association, Bay Path University offers a 60-credit AS degree in Paralegal Studies, which earns the student a Certificate of Advanced Paralegal Studies. Majors will examine legal principles, take courses covering specific areas of law, become familiar with legal forms, and develop the skills to be a legal assistant in a variety of settings. The AS degree can be applied toward the university's BS or BA in Legal Studies, as well. The Bachelor of Arts in Legal Studies is for students who are intending to go on to graduate school or law school, while the Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies is appropriate for students who intend to go into "law, business, or other professional fields after graduation."

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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7 Ursuline College
97.52 100% 2 6:1 52%

Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio has an ABA-approved Legal Studies program offering the only bachelor's degree in the Greater Cleveland area. The faculty consists of attorneys and paralegals with expertise in their areas of instruction and through their guidance, students should graduate prepared, personally and professionally, for a career as a paralegal or to pursue further education at law school. The program certainly prepares students for law school by providing essential education in legal research, writing, and legal ethics. To graduate with the 4-year degree, students must complete a minimum of 128 credit hours. Ursuline also offers a certificate option consisting of 36 credits for students seeking a less extensive program.

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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8 Davenport University
97.41 89% 3 14:1 40%

Offering an Associate of Science, Bachelor of Science, and a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Legal Studies, Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Michigan certainly has options for students seeking to join the paralegal profession. The post-baccalaureate certificate is ABA-approved and can be completed in 27 credit hours; it is useful for students planning for law school or entry-level paralegal positions. The AS degree requires 64 credits, and also prepares students to become paralegals in a variety of workplaces. Finally, the more extensive BS degree is an excellent starting point for pre-law students, but the program offers paths for paralegals, and legal work in other settings, as well.

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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9 Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
97.34 98% 2 8:1 62%

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College offers a flexible online paralegal studies program which can allow students to graduate with a bachelor's degree, associate's degree, or a Paralegal Certificate. While the bulk of the coursework can be completed online, at least 10 credit hours must be face-to-face coursework. The certificate program requires 32 credits, while the bachelor's and associate's degrees require 47 credits and 41 credits, respectively. The program at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and approved by the American Bar Association. Over 90 percent of the program's graduates find a job after graduation.

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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10 University of Toledo
97.33 85% 4 20:1 46%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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11 Webster University
97.12 94% 3 13:1 64%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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12 Midland College
97.03 62% 2 17:1 N/A

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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13 Lewis-Clark State College
97.01 62% 3 16:1 26%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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14 St Petersburg College
96.94 23% 3 22:1 N/A

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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15 University of Hartford
96.83 97% 3 10:1 52%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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16 University of Cincinnati-Clermont College
96.78 18% 3 16:1 N/A

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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17 Missouri Western State University
96.70 60% 2 17:1 30%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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18 University of Great Falls
96.70 99% 2 13:1 22%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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19 Highline College
96.67 20% 2 15:1 N/A

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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20 Husson University
96.66 90% 3 15:1 41%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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21 College of Our Lady of the Elms
96.65 97% 3 13:1 68%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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22 Idaho State University
96.49 37% 2 16:1 31%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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23 Wesley College
96.20 95% 2 14:1 31%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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24 Daemen College
96.17 100% 2 13:1 48%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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25 State College of Florida-Manatee-Sarasota
96.16 11% 2 22:1 N/A

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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26 University of North Georgia
95.85 6% 3 21:1 53%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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27 College of Southern Nevada
95.77 20% 2 24:1 N/A

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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28 Marian University
95.62 99% 2 13:1 59%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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29 Liberty University
95.60 78% 3 18:1 46%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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30 Roger Williams University
95.07 89% 3 15:1 61%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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31 University of Detroit Mercy
94.98 98% 2 13:1 57%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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32 Washburn University
94.82 58% 3 14:1 34%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
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33 University of Akron Main Campus
94.77 47% 2 19:1 40%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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34 University of Cincinnati-Main Campus
94.69 54% 2 18:1 62%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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35 Touro College
94.39 63% 2 16:1 50%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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36 Humphreys College-Stockton and Modesto Campuses
94.27 19% 2 18:1 51%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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37 Pennsylvania College of Technology
94.26 9% 3 18:1 40%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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38 Baker College of Auburn Hills
94.21 72% 2 22:1 8%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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39 Widener University-Delaware Campus
94.09 N/A 2 9:1 0%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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40 Eastern Kentucky University
93.77 41% 3 15:1 37%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
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41 Gannon University
93.59 93% 4 13:1 65%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
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42 William Woods University
93.58 100% 1 10:1 49%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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43 University of Arkansas-Fort Smith
93.56 47% 1 18:1 25%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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44 University of Louisville
93.54 56% 1 12:1 52%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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45 College of Saint Mary
93.50 98% 3 12:1 34%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
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46 University of La Verne
93.49 96% 2 17:1 59%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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47 Marist College
93.47 87% 2 16:1 80%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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48 University of Alaska Fairbanks
93.44 43% 1 14:1 33%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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49 Texas State University
93.35 8% 2 23:1 55%

  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
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Paralegals and Legal Assistants-Is there a difference?

The terms “paralegal” and “legal assistant” may cause some confusion, as they are often used interchangeably. According to the National Association of Legal Assistants and the American Bar Association, there is no difference between the two terms. Both terms refer to the same occupation, professional responsibilities, and required level of education. The preference of using one term or the other usually falls to geographic location.

Paralegal Schools Must-Have List

The central role of any paralegal studies program is to prepare its graduates for entry into careers in legal services. The important question for individuals interested in paralegal studies is how to select the right program. Legal organizations including the American Bar Association, National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Association of Legal Administrators, and American Association for Paralegal Education have developed recommendations for evaluating the overall quality and elements of paralegal educational programs. Below is a list of six factors students should consider prior to making a decision about their future paralegal studies:

1. Objectives and Program Philosophy.

The main philosophy and objectives of the program should be clearly stated by the institution and department. For example, does the program take a holistic approach to communication, legal research and writing, critical thinking and decision-making skills? Or, does the program put greater emphasis on certain learning outcomes?

2. Approval from the American Bar Association.

Paralegal organizations recommend students seek out institutions that have American Bar Association approval for their paralegal programs. Approval is voluntary and demonstrates the institution’s commitment to industry-specific educational preparation and outcomes.

3. Membership in the American Association for Paralegal Education.

Membership in the AAFPE, like ABA approval, is a reflection of a program’s commitment to providing an education that is in alignment with current legal trends and developments.

4. Program Reputation.

Students should learn how a program is received by current students, graduates, and the legal industry at-large. Is the program ranked by publications such as U.S. News & World Review? Do graduates speak highly of the instruction they received? Is the school routinely mentioned among the best in the country?

5. Faculty Experience and Background.

The faculty drives the success of any post-secondary educational program. Students should review the individual bios of each faculty member to get an understanding of the faculty’s experience and strengths in the paralegal field.

6. Specialization Options.

What are the areas of specialization available at each paralegal school? Not every program offers a diverse selection of legal concentrations. Students should review the available specializations, the curriculum for each specialization, and the post-graduation opportunities in that space.

7. Student Services.

An often-overlooked factor, student services is an important item to consider prior to selecting a degree program. Does the program enjoy relationships with local legal firms, lawyers and legal organizations? Are career services available to connect aspiring paralegals to internships or job prospects after college?

Paralegal Degrees and Certificates

According to the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), approximately 85 percent of paralegals in the United States complete some form of paralegal education. Prospective students have a wide selection of training opportunities at every level of post-secondary institutions, including vocational schools, community colleges, and private and public four-year universities.

The associate degree in paralegal studies is considered an industry-respected minimum educational requirement, but the NFPA has stated that paralegal education at the bachelor’s level is becoming the educational standard in many job markets. The NFPA recommends that future paralegals complete a four-year program of study, as well as at least 24 semester hours of instruction in their desired area of practice.

The NFPA has also noted that distance education programs offer complementary options to traditional, campus-based programs. The NFPA endorses online and distance education programs. Each degree path (certificate, associate, bachelor’s) is designed to provide students with a foundational understanding of and practical skills in paralegal studies.

Degree-Level Program Length Credit Hours
Certificate 3 to 18 months 24 – 30
Associate 24 months 60
Bachelor’s 48 months 124 – 128

Paralegal School Associate Degrees

Associate degrees in paralegal studies are available in two different types: The Associate of Arts in paralegal studies and the Associate of Science in paralegal studies. Both degrees should provide students with an opportunity to develop competencies in the core areas of legal practice, with the AA putting greater emphasis on liberal arts foundational coursework and the AS concentrating on practical, skill-based instruction.

Students receive an education in the fundamental principles of paralegal practice and the foundations of law, covering subjects such as legal terminology, legal writing, business law, ethics, contract law, criminal procedures and legal research. Graduates of associate programs in paralegal studies develop proficiencies in legal research, legal analysis and investigation, ethical issues and concepts, and critical thinking and reasoning when all coursework is completed.

Contract Law

Students receive an introduction to contract law, including contract creation and termination, oral contracts, illusory contracts, breach of contract and more. Students also review and study the Uniform Commercial Code that governs the sale of goods in the U.S.

Civil Litigation

This course provides students with insight into civil litigation from multiple perspectives, introducing students to the U.S. legal system, the process for initiating a law suit, lawsuit jurisdiction, briefs and pleadings, pre-trial activities, appeals process and the judicial process.

Introduction to U.S. Legal System

This course is designed to provide students with an overview of American law and the U.S. legal system. Student study foundational concepts of legal practice, ranging from regulatory issues to paralegal career trends.

Legal Research & Writing

In this class, students familiarize themselves with the fundamentals of legal research, including the process of finding and analyzing case law. Additionally, students learn about legal reference sources and available research tools (e.g., WESTLAW or LEXIS).

Legal Ethics

Through this course, students focus their studies on the ethical issues of the practice of law, especially those that impact the paralegal profession. Subjects of study may include client confidentiality, conflicts of interest, and paralegal ethical codes.

Paralegal School Bachelor’s Degrees

The Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies (BS) is designed to expand and build upon education provided at the associate degree level. Bachelor’s degrees are divided between academic curriculum, and industry-specific practical education coursework. Students usually take core classes in multiple disciplines; such as mathematics, humanities, social sciences, and English before transitioning to major course requirements in paralegal studies.

As a preparatory degree path, the bachelor’s paralegal degree usually covers the fundamental principles of the legal system, central areas of practice (e.g., criminal law, family law, real estate law, bankruptcy law), and legal research and writing. A bachelor’s in paralegal can offer students the opportunity to further concentrate their studies in a specialized area of practice. Graduates of bachelor’s degree programs in paralegal studies are offered a complex skill set and knowledge base that prepares them to work in a variety of legal setting and roles.

Administrative Law

In this course, students study the fundamental principles–administrative, legal, and constitutional–at both the local and federal levels. The class investigates the role of the paralegal and covers topics such as judicial review, hearing processes, appeals, and adjudication.

Environmental Law

This course introduces students to the basics of environmental law, with special emphasis on the paralegal’s role within the field. Topics of instruction may include major legislation such as the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, and ethical issues and trends.

Wills, Trusts, & Estates

Through this course, students develop an understanding of the laws that govern law estate planning, including the federal estate tax system, charitable trusts, property transfers and more. Students also learn about drafting will and trust documents, the role of probate courts and estate administration.

Advanced Civil Litigation

This advanced course of study prepares students to deal with the various aspects of a civil litigation case. A practical program of study, students learn about each step of the trial process, ranging from client interviews to filing a complaint, the discovery process to the appeals process.

Legal Document Preparation

A practice-specific course of study, this class provides students with an understanding of the preparation of various legal documents. Through a hands-on training approach, students learn about documents in regard to different practice areas, such as wills, trusts, real property and civil litigation.

Paralegal School Certificates

The certificate in paralegal studies is designed for two types of students:

1) An individual with a high school diploma or the equivalent seeking short-term, entry-level career training.
2) A student with an associate or bachelor’s in another field pursuing career training to become a paralegal.

The shortest of all paralegal training programs, the certificate can be completed in as little as 3 months of study, but typically requires between 7 and 18 months to complete. Typically, curriculum is divided between core coursework and a series of electives. Example core class topics include fundamentals of law, legal research and writing, contract and tort law, and legal ethics. Specialty elective subjects can include subjects like family law, environmental law, elder law and insurance law.

Fundamentals of the Paralegal Profession

This course examines the foundational principles of the paralegal occupation. Students study how the role is defined, the scope of responsibilities, technology and specialty areas of practice.

Legal Writing

In this class, students gain an understanding of legal writing, research and analysis. Subjects to be studied include writing strategies, legal analysis, legal correspondence, grammar and punctuation, and legal citation.

Employment Law

Through this class, students are introduced to employment law and major concepts in the field, ranging from the employer-employee relationship to employment law principles, employment discrimination and the responsibilities of each party.

Paralegal Ethics

In this course, students discuss the ethical issues of the paralegal profession, examining the role of the paralegal, appropriate tasks for the paralegal, conflicts of interest, timekeeping, and scope of practice.

Business Law & Bankruptcy

In this class, students gain a basic understanding of business law, focusing on a variety of topics including publicly held companies, limited liability partnerships and limited liability corporations, and laws that guide business entities.

Paralegal School Master’s Degrees

Graduate education in paralegal studies is an emerging area of training in the industry. According to the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), only a handful of universities currently offer advanced degrees in paralegal studies. Instruction is typically focused in related areas of study, such as legal administration.

One example program is the Master of Paralegal Studies offered by George Washington University. In collaboration with the university’s school of law, the master’s degree also includes a certificate in healthcare corporate compliance.

Paralegal Toolbox/Checklist

  • Skills.

    Employment data from O*NET reveals paralegals should develop skills In ten areas, including reading comprehension, active listening, speaking, writing, critical thinking, time management, active learning, coordination, judgment and decision making, and monitoring.

  • Certifications.

    For career advancement, paralegals may also choose to pursue professional certification from the National Federation for Paralegal Associations or the National Association of Legal Assistants. Additionally, some states offer their own examinations for paralegal certifications as well. The National Federation for Paralegal Associations offers two certifications, the Paralegal Competency Examination (PACE) and Paralegal CORE Competency Examination (PCCE), and the National Association for Legal Assistants offers the Certified Paralegal (CP) and Advanced Certified Paralegal certifications and designations. Certification with the PACE program allows paralegals the ability to use the Registered Paralegal (RP) designation.

  • NALA Credentials.

    The National Association for Legal Assistants offers advanced paralegal credential programs. Paralegals can choose to become certified with the NALA with two separate credential options:

    Certified Paralegal/Legal Assistant: The CP and CLA programs are considered national professional standards for paralegals by the NALA.

    Advanced Certified Paralegal. The ACP certification offers 20 hour certification programs in 17 industry-specific subjects, including Family Law, Land Use, Contracts Management, and E-Discovery.

  • Continuing Education.

    Knowledge of current trends in legal services and professional development are two important components for practicing paralegals. The National Association for Legal Assistants provides continuing education opportunities to legal assistants and paralegals. As part of that effort, NALA offers Web-based and campus-based seminars training sessions, annual conventions and various publications such as the CP Study Guide and NALA Manual for Paralegals.

  • Job Titles.

    Graduates of paralegal schools and programs may also encounter a range of other similar job titles including legal clerk, law clerk, law associate, paralegal specialist or legal analyst.

  • Paralegal associations.

    Paralegals may benefit from joining paralegal associations or organizations. Paralegal associations can help paralegals keep up with the latest news and developments in the legal field and help paralegals connect with other legal professionals across the country. Some of the most popular and well-known professional associations for paralegals include:

Paralegal Specializations

The primary function of the paralegal is to provide support to lawyers, with individual responsibilities varying by area of practice and legal setting. However, paralegals do share common tasks, including filing legal documents, conducting legal research, and summarizing case law to reviewing legal precedents. While the occupation itself is broad, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations notes that many paralegals choose to specialize in specific areas of law. These specializations are varied and include areas of law such as public law, criminal law, family law, litigation, real estate law, bankruptcy, criminal defense and estate planning. Below is a description of example responsibilities for five common paralegal specializations:

Public Law

Working in administrative law, paralegals may review case law and prepare evidence in advance of a judicial hearing, locate and interview expert witnesses, analyze legislation or develop trial calendars.

Litigation

Paralegals working in litigation may schedule arbitration meetings, conduct pre-claim investigations, draft pleadings and summons, manage discovery processes, draft research memos or organize courtroom evidence.

Criminal Law

In criminal law, paralegals may conduct legal research, secure information from law enforcement agencies, prepare legal complaints and subpoenas, organize trial evidence, assist in trial proceedings, maintain case calendars or communicate with legal counsel for discovery.

Family Law

Paralegals in family law may speak to prospective clients, schedule attorney consultations, manage hearing calendars, prepare pleadings and court documentation, handle client communication or conduct legal case research.

Real Estate Law

Paralegals working in real estate law may prepare real estate purchase documentation, review purchase agreements, analyze title documents, conduct legal research, review real estate codes or file leases.

Interview with Andrea Holley, Senior Litigation Paralegal, Baker Donelson

Andrea Holley is a senior litigation paralegal with Baker Donelson, a law firm in Memphis, Tennessee. Specializing in medical malpractice and long-term care defense, Ms. Holley graduated with a degree in legal assistant technology from State Technical Institute at Memphis in 1992.

Andrea Holley
Could you describe your career path to-date?

After graduating from State Technical Institute, I did my internship at a law firm here in Memphis where I concentrated on family law and insurance defense. I then went on to work at a general law firm that represented plaintiffs in personal injury, workers’ compensation, bankruptcy, probate/estate, family law and criminal law matters. I was there for seven-and-a-half years and learned so much. From there, worked at a private law firm in Memphis that worked primarily in the area of insurance defense litigation. My focus was on personal injury and workers’ compensation litigation. I then went to work in-house for a large insurance company, where we focused primary on personal injury and workers’ compensation defense. After three-and-a-half years in-house, I moved on to my current position with Baker Donelson, focusing on medical malpractice and long-term care defense. I am active in the Greater Memphis Paralegal Alliance, having served as secretary in 2013 and president in 2014, and am proud to be president of the organization again in 2015.

Where did you get your degree and why did you choose that program?

I graduated from State Technical Institute at Memphis (now Southwest Tennessee Community College) in 1992. I chose that program because at the time in was the only program in Memphis that was ABA approved. I was once upon a time an accounting major and just knew I was doing the wrong thing. My dad always used to say that I would make a good lawyer because I would argue with anyone about anything, but I didn’t want to be a lawyer. Now, I get to make the lawyer look good.

How did your education in your paralegal degree program translate to your real-world occupation?

My education taught me every step in the litigation process, which gave me a heads-up when I went out to look for my first job. I was really prepared to enter my field running. It also taught me the responsibility of being pro-active with your work, which is essential to being a good paralegal. I enjoyed my paralegal education and still use things that I learned back then in my work today. I have been able to speak to a few paralegal students in their classes in the past few years to discuss my education and my work experiences and it makes me very proud that I am able to give back in that capacity.

After Paralegal School: What’s Next?

After completing a paralegal degree, graduates can pursue an assortment of professional opportunities in legal services. Paralegals are employed across a spectrum of industries, from healthcare to real estate, insurance to government. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the best job opportunities are expected to be in healthcare, insurance, financial services and construction. The table below outlines some of the fastest growing industries for paralegals between 2012 and 2022:

Industry Projected Job Growth
Ambulatory Healthcare Services 37%
Individual and Family Services 36%
Social Assistance 32%
Health Practitioner Offices 30%
Construction 30%
Employment Services 27%
Insurance and Employee Benefit Funds 26%
Higher Education 25%
Civil Engineering Construction 22%

Nearly 75 percent of paralegals are employed in the legal services industry, comprised of law firms and legal organizations throughout the country. The other major employers include local government (15,790), the Federal government (13,310), and state government (9,750). Within each of those industries, paralegals may be referred to by different titles such as law clerk, law associate, paralegal specialist, legal clerk, certified paralegal, or legal analyst. Day-to-day responsibilities of paralegals are similar, regardless of area of practice or industry. Some of those shared tasks include the following:

  • File case pleading with the court
  • Prepare legal correspondence
  • Monitor timekeeping and legal billing
  • Conduct legal research
  • Manage law office activity
  • Assist with trial case management

Featured Careers tool

  • Legal Secretaries

    Legal secretaries perform a hybrid of responsibilities—part paralegal and part secretary/administrative. They work with attorneys and clients to help with research, prepare and file court documents, and manage projects and any other information that relates to a court case. They also fulfill the administrative role of secretary in an office, making sure that all office procedures and communications run smoothly.

    Median Salary: $42,170

    Median Hourly: $20.27

    Est. Growth: -3.1%

    No. Employed: 216,730

    Minimum Education: High School Diploma

  • Paralegals/Legal Assistants

    Paralegals and legal assistants help attorneys prepare for hearings, trials and meetings by performing a variety of tasks. For example, they might draft legal documents and correspondence to clients, judges and other attorneys as well as gather documents from the court. They also schedule depositions, organize and file paperwork and briefs, investigate cases, and write legal reports. Those who work for smaller firms tend to perform a wider variety of tasks.

    Median Salary: $46,990

    Median Hourly: $22.59

    Est. Growth: 16.7%

    No. Employed: 267,030

    Minimum Education: Associate’s

Advice from a paralegal

Be sure that you want a career that you have the time to put into
it and the drive to want to succeed. I would also tell them that they need to want to be a part of a team. The attorney that I work with and I make a great team. It is about give and take and listening to other people.

Andrea Holley, Senior Litigation Paralegal, Baker Donelson