Are you hooked on watching old episodes of TV’s Law & Order? Chances are you have noticed the savvy legal assistants, or paralegals, who help the lawyers assemble all the facts related to their cases. Becoming a paralegal can offer you a challenging and interesting career with opportunities for growth and advancement.
Paralegals conduct research on relevant laws, legal articles, and regulations and then write a report which helps a lawyer to prepare a solid court case. The work varies according to the legal practice: Some paralegals help prepare mortgages or other financial documents, while others investigate, collect, and organize evidence for court hearings.
The paralegal profession can be traced to the 1960s, when assistants were trained to help attorneys during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” Since then, the career has expanded as public agencies, private law firms, and corporations have recognized the benefits of employing paralegals to increase the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of their services.
Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there were about 256,000 paralegal and legal assistant jobs in the Unites States in 2010, and it predicts an 18% growth for the career through 2020.
The average paralegal’s 2010 salary was $46,680 per year, or $22.44 per hour.
The typical workload of a paralegal can be varied and interesting. In larger firms, paralegals may specialize by working on the same particular phase of a variety of cases, while a paralegal at a smaller firm may work on the same case from beginning to end.
Either way, a paralegal’s responsibilities usually include:
- investigating the facts of a case
- conducting research on relevant laws and regulations
- organizing and presenting that information
- storing information in computer databases
- writing reports to help lawyers prepare for trials
- drafting correspondence and other documents
- obtaining affidavits and other formal statements that may be used as evidence
Some paralegals specialize in areas such as litigation, personal injury, corporate law, criminal law, employee benefits, intellectual property, bankruptcy, immigration, family law, and real estate.
As you grow in your career, your salary can grow in step, as you take on other responsibilities such as supervising team projects.
More than 1,000 colleges and universities offer paralegal training programs; however, only about 270 of those programs are approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). ABA approved programs offer courses in legal research, laws and ethics, legal writing, family law, business law, intellectual property and personal injury.
An associate’s or bachelor’s degree program includes core studies in English, science, math, and social sciences, along with other courses required for paralegal work.
So, how can you become qualified for this interesting and lucrative profession?
It is easier than you may think. We have done some of the homework for you by listing here the 10 Best Online Paralegal Associate’s Degree Programs.
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The 10 Best Paralegal Associate’s Degree Programs
1. Eastern Kentucky University
Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) offers a unique combination of online and on-campus coursework for its paralegal program.
Students must complete a minimum of 10 semester credit hours in the traditional classroom format and then may complete the rest of the program online.
All full-time paralegal faculty members hold a Juris Doctor (J.D.) or Ph.D., and part-time faculty members include practicing attorneys, judges, and elected officials.
The EKU paralegal program is a charter member of the American Association for Paralegal Education. EKU’s paralegal program graduates are successfully employed at many of the top legal employers throughout the region.
Ranked #55 in U.S. News & World Report’s latest round-up of best regional (South) universities, Eastern Kentucky University is a public institution that was founded in 1906. Its 2013–2014 undergraduate enrollment is 13,947, and its campus size is 675 acres.
Current in-state tuition and fees are $7,536 and current out-of-state tuition and fees are $16,608.
2. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
(Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, IN)
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) offers both a bachelor’s and an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. In addition, the college has a post-baccalaureate paralegal studies certificate program that is designed for students already holding a bachelor’s degree in another field. Flexible distance options, called Woods Online, are also available.
All the paralegal education programs at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College are ABA approved.
The associate’s degree in paralegal studies requires students to complete 39 credit hours of subject-specific coursework, in addition to the general studies requirements. Of those hours, 10 must be taken in the traditional classroom format, while the rest are online.
As a part of liberal arts education, the college’s paralegal program explores law within society, by encouraging students to examine political influences, historical patterns, and economic relations and the moral, philosophical, and ethical foundations and implications of law.
A private institution, SMWC was founded in 1840 and has an undergraduate enrollment of 864 this year. Its rural campus setting has 67 acres.
The college ranked #18 in U.S. News & World Report’s Regional College listings (Midwest). Current tuition and fees are $27,672.
SMWC has a low faculty-student ratio of 11:1, which offers students many opportunities for active class participation and meaningful interaction with faculty.
3. University of Great Falls
(Great Falls, MT)
The paralegal studies program at the University of Great Falls provides a balance between legal theory and practical application. Elective options allow students to pursue areas of different legal expertise. Six-credit specialty class options include Commercial Transactions, Domestic and Family Law, Property Law, Estate Law, Debtor-Creditor Law, Office Systems, and Legal Research.
The program requires an internship, where the student obtains actual experience in a law firm, judge’s office, or corporation.
A minimum of 40%, or 15 credits (whichever is greater), of the major must be earned in residency at the university. The remainder may be achieved online.
The University of Great Falls, founded in 1932, is a private, Roman Catholic liberal arts university that is located near I-15, between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.
With an enrollment of 1,074 students, the institution offers a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Tuition for 2012–2013 was $20,288 for full-time students.
4. Liberty University Online
Liberty University Online’s Associate of Arts in Paralegal Studies equips students with both the practical skills and the knowledge to succeed. All courses are developed and taught by practicing lawyers.
Paralegal students will learn the foundations of law, performing title searches, writing depositions, contemporary worldviews, and real estate transactions. Students will gain experience in dealing with ethical dilemmas, utilizing critical thinking and problem-solving, and formulating sound legal solutions.
Liberty University has been training Champions for Christ since 1971, and pioneering distance education since 1985. With more than 160 fully accredited programs of study and more than 90,000 students from around the world, Liberty University Online is the world’s largest Christian non-profit, online university.
Liberty University, which was founded in 1971 by the late Dr. Jerry Falwell, is ranked among the top 10 online universities by Online Education Database and is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Tuition is $340 per credit hour (based on full-time enrollment) for 2013–2014.
5. Kaplan University
As part of Kaplan University’s paralegal program, you can complete an internship in a legal setting—which means you can gain real-world experience and contacts while you earn college credit.
All professors are working legal practitioners with expertise in legal services, law, and policy.
The Kaplan paralegal program centers on practical legal training in legal terminology, technology, writing, research, and law office management. Other courses examine wills and trusts, contracts, real estate, and torts.
As the largest provider of online legal studies programs in the United States, Kaplan’s School of Legal Studies has graduated 6,500 graduates since 2001.
The cost is $371 per credit hour, with 90 credit hours required. Credits earned in fulfillment of this associate’s degree may be transferred to other Kaplan University bachelor’s degree programs.
Founded in 1937 in Davenport, Iowa, as the American Institute of Commerce, the institution was one of only 15 participants in the U.S. Department of Education’s Demonstration Grant, allowing it to offer distance education courses via the Internet in 1999. In 2001, 34 students were enrolled to take all of their courses exclusively online.
Today, Kaplan University has 45,000 degree-seeking online and campus-based students. About 90% complete their coursework in online programs.
6. Penn Foster College
Penn Foster College’s Paralegal Studies Associate Degree Program is an all on-line program that features in-depth study materials and learning aids.
Courses taught by legal professionals include Legal Terminology and the U.S. Court System, How to Conduct Legal Investigations and Interviews, Legal Writing and Research, and Paralegal Ethics and Professional Responsibility. Glossaries at the end of most study units summarize key terms to help you learn the language of the law.
As a paralegal student with Penn Foster, you can learn at your own pace from your own computer. You also can transfer your credits from another school.
Tuition costs for one semester of the paralegal program are $1446, if installments are made, or $980 if paid in one payment.
Founded in 1890, Penn Foster College is based in Scranton, PA, and Boston, MA, and also operates internationally through Penn Foster International and ICS (International Career School) Canada.
More than 150,000 students enroll with Penn Foster each year.
7. Rasmussen College
With an extensive curriculum based on recommendations from the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), Rasmussen College’s Paralegal Associate’s degree program will provide you with the opportunity to take courses such as Law Office Technology: Cyberspace and the Paralegal Profession, Family Law, and Legal Research, as well as the opportunity to receive course credit for a law office internship.
Estimated full-time tuition for the 2013–2104 school year is $28,106.
Rasmussen College was founded in 1900 in St. Paul, MN, to bring practical, career-focused education to the classroom. Today, Rasmussen includes 24 campuses and more than 40 diverse online degree programs available to students around the world.
Your paralegal coursework and experienced instructors prepare you to take the National Certified Legal Assistant/Paralegal Examination (CLA/CP Exam)—with no additional fee required.
Eighty-three percent of Rasmussen graduates obtain work in their chosen field upon graduation.
8. Harrison College
Harrison College’s paralegal program prepares students to perform research, drafting, investigation, record-keeping and review, and other administrative functions under the supervision of an attorney.
Graduates of the paralegal program, which consists of a total of 96 credit hours, will have received instruction and hands-on experience in legal research, in drafting legal documents, and in courthouse procedures.
Founded as a business college in 1902, today Harrison College provides instruction on 12 campuses in Indiana and offers online studies to students anywhere in the world. The same principles of keeping the management local and the education meaningful that started the school remain in force today.
Harrison College has an enrollment of a little under 6,000 students, with a student-faculty ratio of about 17:1.*
Tuition is $390 per credit hour for a full-time student enrolled in the paralegal program.**
* Figures based on IPEDS data for 2012–2013.
** Figures based on the course catalog for 2013–2014.
South University’s Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies consists of specialized coursework and supervised internships under practicing attorneys in public and private legal settings. Students will gain experience in paralegal studies in police administration, law firms, real estate companies, title companies, bank and trust agencies, and judicial offices.
The Savannah campus’s partially online and partially in-class program is ABA approved. Tuition for the entire program is $43,160. The job placement rate for the legal program graduates students is 71%.
South University history goes back to 1899, when Dr. John Draughon established Draughon’s Practical Business College in Savannah. Since then, South University has gone on to be a pioneer in business education both online and at its campuses locations in Austin, TX; Cleveland, OH; Columbia, SC; Dallas and Fort Worth, TX; High Point, NC; Montgomery, AL; Novi, MI; Richmond and Virginia Beach, VA; Savannah, GA; and Tampa and West Palm Beach, FL.
Practical training from the South University Paralegal degree program prepares graduates working under the supervision of a licensed attorney to perform many tasks in a legal office, including, but not limited to, interviewing clients and witnesses, preparing legal documents, and otherwise assisting attorneys with the preparation of their cases.
10. Remington College
Remington College’s online Paralegal Associate’s Degree program gives students the opportunity to explore family law, bankruptcy, probate, trial preparation, contracts, civil litigation, and real estate.
The paralegal program is delivered in six 13-week semesters and consists of 90 credit hours. Full-time students may be able to complete the program and be on their way to employment as a paralegal in as little as 18 months.
A minimum of 60 online semester credit hours must be completed to qualify for graduation. Online class sizes are relatively small, with typically 30 students or fewer per class, which encourages opportunities for direct interaction with instructors.
Tuition for the entire program is $29,850.
Remington College is a group of affiliated companies of privately owned, post-secondary educational institutions. The college and its predecessor companies have been involved in U.S. higher education since 1985.
More than 8,700 students currently are enrolled in Remington College in nine states, both in its online and brick-and-mortar programs.
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- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Paralegals and Legal Assistants. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm (visited October 29, 2013)
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations http://www.paralegals.org/associations/2270/files/whatis.html