Paralegal Schools and Degrees

Find a program that’s right for you.

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.

Top 10 Paralegal Schools and Degrees

Rank School Location
1 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
2 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL
3 Alexandria Technical & Community College Alexandria, MN
4 Humphreys University Stockton, CA
5 University of Evansville Evansville, IN
6 Webster University Saint Louis, MO
7 Winona State University Winona, MN
8 Hampton University Hampton, VA
9 Illinois State University Normal, IL
10 Mississippi College Clinton, MS

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Best Paralegal Programs 2018-2019


  • Methodology

    For this year’s college rankings, our analysts carefully reviewed statistical data from multiple sources for more than 7,500 postsecondary institutions so that you could easily evaluate schools based on what matters most to you. For each school, we applied the eligibility criteria outlined below, then ranked schools and programs based on four ranking factors.

    Eligibility Criteria for All Postsecondary Institutions:

    • Must be a not-for-profit institution
    • Must be regionally or nationally accredited
    • Must offer at least one online program1
    • Must be located in a state (schools in US territories and Washington DC were not considered)

    Ranking Factors:

    Dozens of data points were used to calculate a weighted score for four ranking factors: quality, affordability, flexibility and program (in order of significance). To determine quality, which was the most important consideration for all AS Online rankings, the most impactful data points were acceptance and graduation rates; for affordability, tuition2 and grants; for flexibility, part-time enrollment offerings; and for program, degrees conferred in that program area.

    Data Sources:

    How to Read Our Rankings Tool:

    • A dash indicates IPEDS data was not available
    • Annual in-state tuition is displayed unless stated otherwise


    1 Our Best Vocational Programs rankings included data for both online and campus programs.

    2 Both annual in-state and out-of-state tuition rates were used in our methodology; however, our Rankings Tool currently only displays annual in-state rates.


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 2018-2019 in the list below.

  1. Liberty University
    Location

    Lynchburg, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    At the nonprofit, faith-based Liberty University, students can complete a Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies in a 100% online format. Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the program entails 120 credit hours, which takes an average of 3.5 years to complete. Each course lasts for 8 weeks and is delivered through the web platform Blackboard Learn. Although students are expected to meet certain deadlines, where and when coursework is accessed is based around a student's individual schedule. In addition, there are 8 different start dates each year to provide more flexibility. For successful completion, students must satisfy certain general education classes, including credit hours in Christian Life & Thought. Field-specific curriculum involves American government, legal research, legal writing, real estate transactions and property, tort law and more. Students can typically transfer around 75% of their credits from another institution. However, 50% of program requirements must be taken through Liberty. In order to be admitted, students need to hold a minimum 2.0 GPA, which must be maintained in order to receive a degree. Upon graduation, students enter the legal field in professions such as paralegals, legal assistants, claims adjusters and law clerks. Military personnel receive discounted rates for tuition, and the school is now providing electronic textbooks to online undergrads, saving students $800-$2,000 in costs every year. To assist in your studies, you can access an online career center, writing center, the library and tutoring. Online Student Life works to provide distance education students with the same supportive, Christ-centered experience that residential students receive.

  2. University of Central Florida
    Location

    Orlando, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University of Central Florida partners with ed2go to provide students with continuing education opportunities, including a paralegal online training program. There is a 12-month time limit to finish 300 self-paced clock hours with a minimum 2.0 GPA. Classes, which are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, include topics such as paralegal employment, on-the-job realities, legal research and criminal law. By the end the program, students will be equipped to work as a legal assistant or paralegal. Competency in conducting legal interviews, familiarity with legal ethics and knowledge of the etiquette for legal writing are just a few of the skills students can expect to gain. The curriculum also prepares students to take the Certified Paralegal Exam. As a bonus, program enrollment grants access to the National Association of Legal Assistants' self-study courses. In order to sign up for the exam, students must have an associate degree, bachelor's degree or professional experience that adds up to 900 clock hours of coursework. Upon graduation, the Virtual Career Center can assist in job exploration, creating a resume and becoming an effective interviewee. Although students need a computer to participate in this program, tuition covers all necessary materials, including any required books. On top of this, many continuing education programs qualify for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Vocational Rehabilitation, the Trade Adjustment Act and other government funding opportunities. There are also military discounts to help cut down on tuition costs.

  3. Alexandria Technical & Community College
    Location

    Alexandria, MN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Students looking to enter the field of legal professions have the option to complete a Paralegal Associate in Applied Science degree at Alexandria Technical & Community College. The program delivers comprehensive training in law and the management of legal communication as well as develops practical business skills, such as the use of relevant computer applications. For 5 semesters, students will partake in 63 credit hours, covering topics including legal office procedures, civil litigation, interpersonal communication and legal writing. The final semester involves a summer internship. Upon graduation, which requires a minimum 2.0 GPA, students can enter the workforce as paralegals, assistants, credit investigators, senior court clerks, property specialists, bankruptcy analysts and title company closers. The school is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and awards over $300,000 in scholarships every year. Students are supported throughout campus, and the ATCC Information Center acts as a central hub for connecting students to resources. Transfer advisors are available to guide students through the process of transitioning to a 4-year degree program, and the online Transferology tool helps students to determine recognized transfer credits. Support Services offers free on-campus and online tutoring, study groups, writing assistance and access services for students with disabilities. The Counseling Center is available to help in personal and academic matters as well as offers career services. Admissions advisors are also available to answer questions from prospective students or to set up campus tours. A high school diploma or GED with no academic probation or suspension is the requirement for application.

  4. Humphreys University
    Location

    Stockton, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    At Humphreys University there are multiple opportunities for students aspiring to enter legal professions or working toward admissions into law school. For example, the Bachelor of Arts in Legal Studies degree requires 181 credits and takes around 4 years to complete. Another option is to spend 2 years completing 96 credits in order to receive an Associate of Arts in Legal Studies. Students pursuing a different academic pathway can tack on 28 additional credits to earn a minor in legal studies. Finally, for those interested in becoming a paralegal or legal assistant, there is a 128-credit program to receive a certificate in paralegal studies. Although a minimum 2.0 GPA is mandatory for graduation, students finishing any of the above degrees with a 3.2 GPA and LSAT score of 144 are qualified to transfer to the institution's Drivon School of Law. Through this program, students satisfy 120 credits in order to graduate with a Juris Doctor degree and are equipped to take the California Bar exam. Evening classes are available to accommodate flexible schedules, and a number of general education classes may be offered in an online format. All coursework is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission, and programs cover topics such as legal terminology, criminal law and professional responsibility. Tutoring services, career guidance and academic advising are available to assist students in their educational journey. There are also student account specialists to answer questions regarding tuition and financial aid.

  5. University of Evansville
    Location

    Evansville, IN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Students at the University of Evansville have the option to add a minor in legal studies to their academic plan. Upon completion, students will be prepared for work in the legal professions or to move on to law school. Although the minor can supplement any pathway, it is highly recommended for students working toward degrees in criminal justice, political science, international affairs, sociology or psychology. The program is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and requires 18 credits of on-campus coursework. Classes include constitutional law, legal environment of business, international crime and justice, and human rights. For successful completion, students must hold a minimum 2.0 GPA. Academic advisors, a writing center and counseling services are available to assist students throughout their studies. On top of this, students enrolled in the legal studies minor have access to LSAT preparation courses. For added convenience, the LSAT is held on campus twice each year. Students also receive the benefit of attending Law Day at Indiana University. This annual event showcases law schools from all over the nation as well as offers resources and presentations to help aid students through the LSAT and law school admissions processes. For those who are planning to enter the workforce following their undergraduate education, the career center provides guidance in job exploration, resume building and interview skills. Residential and out-of-state attendees receive the same tuition rates, and the school prides itself on the numerous scholarships it awards for all academic levels, noting that 0% of students pay "full price."

  6. Webster University
    Location

    Saint Louis, MO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and approved by the American Bar Association, Webster University is a private and nonprofit learning institution offering a certificate program for paralegal studies. Prospective students must have already completed 84 credit hours of general education with a suggested 2.5 GPA. The program takes an average of 1-2 years to complete and consists of 7 courses in topics such as legal ethics, methods of legal research, computerized legal research and advanced topics in law. These classes cannot be transferred from other institutions and must be taken through Webster University . Students satisfying the required 24 credits with a grade C- or higher will graduate, equipping them to enter the workforce as paralegals or legal assistants employed by lawyers, corporations or government agencies. For students who already possess an undergraduate degree, the same certificate is available at the graduate level in both on-campus and online formats. Online coursework is delivered through the web platform WorldClassRoom in a semi-structured format, which allows students to access coursework at any time throughout the week in order to meet certain deadlines. The Online Learning Center provides guidance for technical issues and other distance education concerns. All students can utilize the school's support services, including career guidance, counseling and the student health center. Academic advisors are available to assist in admissions, class registration and tuition questions. Military personnel receive discounted rates, and there are a number of financial aid opportunities to help cut down on costs, such as loans, graduate assistantships and school-awarded scholarships specific to freshman, transfer students, veterans and more.

  7. Winona State University
    Location

    Winona, MN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The Winona State University legal studies program offers 2 different tracks, the professional option and the law and society option, both of which are offered on campus . The professional option is among a small minority of 4-year programs of its kind in the entire nation to earn approval from the American Bar Association (ABA) - and the very first in Minnesota. Winona State is also accredited by the North Central Association/Higher Learning Commission. The program, which awards graduates Bachelor of Science degrees, prepares students for work in a variety of settings, including law firms, financial institutions, insurance companies and governmental agencies. Students will leave the program with the necessary skills, both professional and intellectual, required to work on legal teams.

    The B.S. program emphasizes liberal arts education while requiring specialized legal courses, which usually begin during fall of a student's junior year. There is also a legal studies minor, which is not ABA approved. The law and society track culminates in a Bachelor of Arts degree, but, like the minor, that program also is not recognized by the ABA. The law and society B.A. program is an interdisciplinary major that addresses the law as it pertains to history, theory, society and concept.

    Students will each be assigned an academic adviser and will have access to academic planning and support resources. They may also take advantage of the Student Resource Center, which they can use to seek out information and services that can help them progress on their paths to graduation. The career services center provides help with job hunts, career planning and resume preparation. Students also enjoy the benefits of counseling, tutoring, help with writing, library services and tech assistance.

  8. Hampton University
    Location

    Hampton, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Hampton University, accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, offers 2 paralegal studies programs, one that culminates in a certificate and another that results in a Bachelor of Arts degree. Both can be taken on-campus or online. The certificate prepares a student to immediately enter the workforce or, provided the student has graduated with a grade of C or better, to transfer into a 4-year paralegal studies degree program. The 30-credit certificate program is the same both on campus and online, and both require an internship, even for students who completed the program as web-based distance learners. Coursework includes legal writing, legal research, law in society, and litigation and trial practice, as well as criminal, business and real estate law. The certificate program is designed to be completed in 45 weeks.

    Similarly, the requirements and coursework are the same on campus and online for the B.A. program as well. Both consist of 122 credit hours divided nearly equally among the freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years. Graduates will leave the program - which is designed for both new students and current working professionals - prepared to contribute to legal teams in a variety of settings, including law firms, government agencies, corporations, banks, trade associations and nonprofits.

    Distance learners should note that online courses are asynchronous, which means they do not have to log on at certain times or days, and there are no on-site proctored exams. Instead, tests are taken online, completed within a predetermined window of time and submitted automatically to the instructor. Online courses that follow 8-week session schedules allow students to take up to 6 credit hours, which equals 12 credit hours per semester. You can enroll in up to 9 credit hours per session for courses that follow 16-week schedules.

  9. Illinois State University
    Location

    Normal, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Students can pursue either a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts degree through the legal studies program at Illinois State University. Of the 120 total hours required to complete the program, at least 42 must be senior college hours, 40 are major hours, 9 hours are elective, 3 are humanities and fine arts, 7-8 are physical and life sciences, 3 are math and 9 are communication and composition. Between 37 and 41 credit hours may be transferred as part of the Illinois Articulation Initiative. General education courses can also be satisfied with a baccalaureate-oriented associate degree from a qualified program.

    As part of this on-campus program, students will have access to a dedicated career adviser as well as an internship coordinator. Classes are small, and courses are taught by full-time faculty as well as practitioners with real-world experience in the field. Some students will opt to enter the workforce after graduation while others may choose to go on to law school. Those who plan to pursue graduate degrees should consult pre-law advisers before choosing classes and registering.

    Illinois State is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, and the legal studies program is approved by the American Bar Association. As part of the school's financial aid assistance program, help is available both to applicants who have already completed their FAFSA forms and those who have not yet begun. The university also offers and supports a wide range of scholarships and has even developed the ScholarshipFinder tool to help applicants continually search for new resources as they apply to scholarships they've already found. Students enjoy a range of resources and services, including counseling, disability services, career services, tutoring, library services and writing help.

  10. Mississippi College
    Location

    Clinton, MS

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The paralegal studies program at Mississippi College is available in 3 separate tracks with 3 different outcomes: paralegal studies B.S., certificate in paralegal studies and minor in paralegal studies. All 3 programs can be completed online, but with a few considerations. Distance learners pursuing the bachelor's degree online are limited to minoring in communication and a more defined curriculum with fewer general core options. Those pursuing the minor online can pair the program with a communication generalist B.S. degree. The certificate program is the same online, as it is on campus. Distance learners will use the Moodle learning management system to receive and submit assignments, communicate with peers and instructors, check grades and receive updates.

    The B.S. program requires 120 total hours, with 46 in core courses, 36-39 in paralegal studies courses, 9 elective credits and 18 minor requirements. The certificate program consists of 27 hours and is reserved for students who have already completed their 4-year degrees. The minor consists of 18 semester hours in courses like law office management, legal writing, civil litigation and legal research. No matter which paths they choose, students will leave the program understanding the workings of state and federal courts, how to draft legal documents, how to handle ethical dilemmas and how to conduct research and analyze information.

    Whether they choose online or on-campus study, students will have access to resources like tutoring, Christian development, health services, counseling services, computer services and IT help, the bookstore and library. The Office of Financial Aid exists to help students complete their FAFSA applications and pursue funding to pay for college, and the school also supports several scholarships, grants, loans and additional resources. Mississippi College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

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.

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-LevelProgram LengthCredit Hours
Certificate3 to 18 months24 – 30
Associate24 months60
Bachelor’s48 months124 – 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:

    National Federation of Paralegal Associations
    American Association for Paralegal Education
    National Association of Legal Assistants
    Standing Committee on Legal Assistants
    Association of Legal Administrators

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:

IndustryProjected Job Growth
Ambulatory Healthcare Services37%
Individual and Family Services36%
Social Assistance32%
Health Practitioner Offices30%
Construction30%
Employment Services27%
Insurance and Employee Benefit Funds26%
Higher Education25%
Civil Engineering Construction22%

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

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  • Legal Secretaries

    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/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

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