Introduction to the Paralegal Profession
The United States is a litigious society that requires a large number of lawyers to sift through the law through court and administrative hearings to resolve issues. As legal costs increase, paralegals have been trusted with a larger number of duties, tasks and responsibilities. As a result, the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics has identified the paralegal career as a field with rising demand for employment and a great potential for career growth.
Paralegals (also called legal assistants or legal secretaries) support attorneys with basic legal paperwork, documentation and tasks. These include preparation of depositions, affidavits, arguments, reports, pleadings and motions for hearings. Legal assistants conduct basic background research into case law, judicial decisions and relevant published material.
Lawyers depend on paralegals to perform the basic footwork looking into the initial details of cases and evidence collection. Organizing documents for all stages of the legal process will be a key task for the legal assistant. While some legal assistants engage in more office management functions like answering phones, maintaining financial office records, coordinating legal staff, interviewing clients and witnesses and correspondence; others have more legal duties like drafting contracts and mortgages, assisting in preparing tax returns, executing wills and closing real estate deals.
Information on Online Paralegal Degree Schools
The following is a list of schools offering online associate paralegal degrees, including the Web site URL, physical locations and type of degrees (be aware that courses are subject to change):
- Colorado Technical University Online — Associate of Science in Paralegal studies
- Everest University — Paralegal (Associate's)
- Keiser University — AA Paralegal Studies
- Liberty University — AA in Paralegal Studies
- Post University — Certificate: Paralegal (Legal Studies)
While certificates and associate degrees are common, it is unusual for schools to offer online bachelors paralegal degrees and online masters paralegal degrees.
The Advantage of Online Degrees
In our technology-laden times, online education is an increasingly attractive way to learn. Distance learning allows students to learn at their own speed, on their own schedule. Don't be held back by slower students — complete your education when you want to.
Continue to work or take care of your family by taking an online course. Learn in the convenience of your home or office. Perhaps, your employer will help you add a paralegal degree to increase your value to the firm. Propel your career into the future with an online paralegal degree.
What Coursework Must I Complete?
1.) Legal coursework includes the following: Administrative Law, Advanced Legal Analysis, Bankruptcy, Civil Law, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Drafting Contracts, Employee Benefits, Employment, Environment, Ethics, Family Law, Immigration Law, Intellectual Property, Labor Law, Laws of Evidence, Legal Document Preparation, Legal Research, Litigation, Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights, Personal Injury, Property, Torts, Trusts and Estates, White Collar Crime and Wills.
2.) Non-legal coursework includes the following: Accounting, Economics, English Literature, History, Marketing, Science, Sociology and Writing.
Certification and Accreditation
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) conducts tests that measure education and experience for Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) and Certified Paralegal (CP) credentials. Paralegals with more experience can gain the Advanced Paralegal Certification.
The American Bar Association approves online paralegal degree programs for accreditation.
Legal assistants must have a basic working knowledge of the legal process, including the ability to analyze facts and evidence, along with the ability to conduct research on legal precedents. Paralegals must have great communication skills. They are involved in all dimensions of document preparation — typing, writing, drafting, updating, editing, reviewing and scanning.
Paralegals will work with computers, databases, software and the Internet to research cases. Paralegals must enter, retrieve, organize, index, sort and update data. Thus, solid organizational, computer and basic office equipment skills are a requirement for this job.
Paralegal Employment Opportunities
The Bureau of Labor Statistics views the paralegal profession as a growing field estimating that 7 out of 10 paralegals work at a law firm. Many different organizations hire entry-level paralegals, including law offices, courts, corporations, insurance companies, banks, government agencies and non-profit organizations.
Corporate paralegals work on contracts, employees benefits, annual reports, financial records, stockholder meeting minutes and ensure government regulation compliance.
Government paralegals prepare agency records, collect meeting minutes, present evidence and ensure regulations compliance.
Non-profit paralegals file forms, prepare documents and conduct research for the disadvantaged.
Paralegal wages vary greatly with the highest salaries achieved in corporations and the Federal Government.
Paralegals work in challenging, fast-paced office environments with firm time deadlines performing tasks delegated by lawyers. Many paralegals put in long hours preparing, documenting and organizing cases.
Paralegals are prohibited from performing such legal duties as setting legal fees, giving legal advice and presenting cases in court.
Related legal careers that are potential avenues for advancement include law clerk, legal research assistants, administrative assistants, attorney and judges.
Paralegals are increasingly in demand as legal firms delegate more duties to these legal assistants to reduce attorney workload and lower costs. The legal field is complex and provides great challenges for exciting careers. Online distance learning is a great convenience with affordable classes tailored to specific education needs.
Basic coursework will introduce paralegals to the basics of the legal process while developing skill sets that can be used for preparing documents, reviewing evidence and researching precedents for legal cases. Employment options are expected to increase. Courses change rapidly. Consider accreditation by checking with the American Bar Association regarding a school's paralegal degree. Get a valuable paralegal degree and propel yourself into a bright, successful legal career.