This guide covers the basics of earning a legal studies degree online, including the admission process and how to choose an online program. The guide also lists common legal studies courses and the skills they help students develop. The sections below can help learners understand common career paths, salary expectations, and continuing education opportunities for legal studies graduates. Use the information below to help you decide whether a legal studies degree fits your professional and personal goals.
Overview of Legal Studies Degrees
Legal studies is an interdisciplinary field that deals with history, political science, criminal justice, communication, and other areas. Legal studies bachelor's programs teach students important concepts in legal theory and systems. In addition, programs emphasize practical instruction in writing, research, arbitration, and critical thinking. Legal studies programs ready students for many careers in law, business, and government. Some programs offer additional practical experience through internship opportunities and other in-person requirements.
This degree is ideal for students who are passionate about law and the judicial system. Legal studies programs deal with all aspects of the law; undergraduates may study topics including criminal law, constitutional law, property law, and immigration law.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for legal support workers to increase 11% from 2016 to 2026. Over the same time period, the BLS projects opportunities for paralegals and legal assistants to increase 15%, which translates to 41,800 new positions. The legal support field continues to grow as law firms work to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
The application process for students pursuing legal studies degrees is similar to that for undergraduate applicants in most fields. Most programs require an application fee and a form that includes basic personal information.
Bachelor's programs typically require official high school transcripts. Some schools set minimum GPA requirements, which are typically 2.0-3.0. Most colleges accept a GED or equivalent in lieu of a high school diploma. In addition, many schools require SAT or ACT scores, and prospective students may need to achieve a certain high school class rank. Some schools require additional materials, such as personal essays or recommendation letters.
Transfer students should carefully review the relevant admission requirements. Transfer applicants may need to satisfy different GPA and standardized test score requirements. Some legal studies bachelor's programs require applicants to have prior college credit; students may need to complete general education courses through an associate program before applying. Learners should contact their prospective university's admissions department to learn more about specific requirements.
What Will I Learn?
Legal studies programs provide knowledge necessary to succeed in a variety of law-related professions. Programs typically draw coursework from many disciplines, leading to varied and comprehensive curricula.
Students explore key elements of U.S. legal history, including landmark legal decisions and the writing of the U.S. Constitution. They also study the U.S. judicial system and how it interacts with other branches of government. In addition, legal studies students take courses on ethics, responsibility, legal theory, and court procedure. Through electives, learners can explore legal issues and regulations pertaining to specific fields, such as sports, entertainment, aviation, immigration, business, and finance.
Most bachelor's programs in legal studies comprise about 120 credits. Students typically complete 40-50 credits of general education courses, 50-60 credits of major courses, and 20-30 credits of electives. While topics and course titles vary by school, the courses below are common requirements for many online legal studies degrees.
This course prepares students for many law-related professions by introducing learners to the style and vocabulary that lawyers, paralegals, and other legal professionals use to convey ideas. Students gain experience preparing written documents including briefs, memos, and contracts.
Aspiring criminal defense lawyers, prosecutors, and legal assistants can benefit from this course, which explores specific crimes and basic concepts such as criminal responsibility and legal defense. Students may also learn about the American court system and the factors that influence U.S. laws and regulations.
This course prepares students to enter the business side of the entertainment industry as lawyers, agents, and managers. The course provides an overview of the various laws that regulate the entertainment industry. Students explore common legal issues related to contracts, copyrights, and trademarks.
In this course, students explore tools and methods used in legal investigation and research. Learners examine the resources available to lawyers and other legal professionals. Students also learn to analyze sources, communicate findings, and construct legal arguments.
Students explore the history and impact of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Students learn how these fundamental documents provide the basis for individual freedoms and for the legal system. Students explore various ways the Supreme Court and other courts interpret the Constitution.
The U.S. Legal System
Students learn the basics of the U.S. judicial system, including its foundations and how the system evolved over time. Learners compare and contrast the U.S. system of jurisprudence with other systems around the world.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Legal Studies?
The following section introduces the main skills that students develop while earning an online legal studies degree. While curricula vary, most legal studies programs help learners hone reasoning, research, and communication skills. The section below also includes common career paths for legal studies graduates, along with each position's responsibilities and average salary.
Students in legal studies programs gain the skills they need to operate effectively in the legal field. They develop abilities applicable to a variety of positions, along with skills specific to legal assistant and paralegal work. Students learn to conduct research, analyze documents, think critically, and communicate complex ideas. They may also develop organizational skills that apply to many clerical, administrative, and secretarial positions.
Through coursework in logic, reasoning, and ethics, students learn to analyze difficult legal scenarios. Research courses help students learn to conduct legal research and to use popular databases, such as LexisNexis. Legal studies programs also emphasize effective oral and written communication skills. Students gain experience writing and editing legal documents such as contracts, memos, and briefs. They also hone their interviewing and presentation skills.
Students pursuing a legal studies degree gain advanced skills that can make them invaluable to a team of lawyers. Students learn to negotiate, develop legal arguments, and mediate disputes. Coursework on the justice system teaches students to navigate court procedures and work within established guidelines.
Potential Careers and Salaries
A bachelor's degree in legal studies qualifies graduates for various law-related careers. Many graduates provide administrative, research, and legal support to lawyers. They draft and edit documents, handle scheduling, and interface with clients. Paralegals and legal assistants can work in most settings that employ lawyers, including law firms, corporate legal departments, and government organizations.
Due to the growing demand for legal professionals, legal studies graduates often apply their skills to positions in industries such as entertainment, banking, and technology. Legal studies graduates may also pursue roles in criminal law, assisting prosecutors, district attorneys, and defense lawyers. Graduates can also work with lawyers who practice civil or corporate law.
Professionals with a bachelor's in legal studies degree do not always work alongside lawyers. They may secure positions as court reporters or court clerks. Other graduates apply their legal expertise to careers as contract administrators, mediators, or arbitrators.
Annual Median Salary: $69,376
Senior-level paralegals often work in large law firms or corporate legal departments. These professionals have more responsibility than entry-level paralegals, and they may handle sensitive documents and information. Some senior paralegals supervise a team of legal assistants.
Legal Administrative Assistant
Annual Median Salary: $48,939
Legal administrative assistants provide administrative support to paralegals and lawyers. They manage filing, scheduling, and other administrative tasks. Legal administrative assistants may perform some paralegal work and must know how to use legal research databases.
Annual Median Salary: $53,474
Litigation paralegals handle several tasks related to legal proceedings. They assist attorneys by preparing, organizing, and filing relevant documents. They also coordinate parties involved in cases, including witnesses, clients, and courts.
Annual Median Salary: $52,079
Legal secretaries often work in law firms and courts. They file and organize documents such as motions, briefs, and memorandums. They also manage lawyers' schedules and make appointments. Legal secretaries often interview clients and type letters and pleadings.
Annual Median Salary: $58,101
These professionals ensure that all parties involved in a contract uphold the agreement. To enforce an agreement, contract administrators must understand the terms, rights, and conditions of a particular contract. They also oversee any contractual changes.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Legal Studies?
Earning a bachelor's in legal studies is a great way to prepare for a career in law. Graduates often find entry-level roles as paralegals, legal assistants, and mediators. However, students interested in pursuing senior or leadership roles should consider earning an advanced degree. For example, aspiring attorneys need a law degree. Students who plan to teach law or legal studies at the college level must earn a terminal degree.
Entry-level employees who do not wish to become lawyers or professors can advance in the field without earning a graduate degree. Earning an industry certification can help employees demonstrate advanced skills and receive promotions. In addition, work experience can help entry-level professionals advance to roles with higher pay and increased responsibility. For example, experienced paralegals often qualify for roles as senior paralegals.
Accreditation for Legal Studies Bachelor's Programs
Students pursuing an online legal studies degree should choose an accredited college or university. Accredited schools undergo evaluation by third-party agencies to ensure they meet set academic standards. Students who plan to attend law school must choose an accredited university, since most graduate programs only accept applicants with a degree from an accredited school. In addition, only students at accredited institutions can qualify for federal financial aid.
There are two main types of institutional accreditation in the United States. Nonprofit institutions typically receive regional accreditation, while vocational colleges usually hold national accreditation. Whether regional or national, schools should hold accreditation from an agency with approval from the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Some regional accrediting organizations include the Higher Learning Commission and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Legal Studies Professional Organizations
Professional organizations provide valuable resources to students, recent graduates, and seasoned professionals in the legal studies field. These associations may organize networking events, at which recent graduates can learn from established legal professionals and make important industry connections.
Newsletters and publications help professionals stay up-to-date on the latest law-related news. Professional organizations may also maintain job boards to help members enter the field and advance their careers. Below, are some popular professional organizations for legal studies graduates.
NALS...the association for legal professionals
Founded as the National Association of Legal Secretaries, this organization serves various types of legal support professionals. The association offers a career center, certification programs, national and state conferences, and legal training. More than half of NALS members are legal assistants or paralegals.
National Association of Legal Assistants
NALA serves more than 18,000 members through the main organization and affiliated associations. NALA supports paralegals through continuing education opportunities including publications, webinars, and courses. The association also helps paralegals advance their careers by attending networking events and earning professional certifications.
American Alliance of Paralegals
Founded in 2003, the American Alliance of Paralegals works to advance the paralegal profession by supporting individual paralegals. The association publishes a quarterly newsletter, and members can pursue the American Alliance Certified Paralegal credential. Members also receive access to webinars and a job board.