Paralegal Degree & Career Center
Criminal Justice Degree Schools has an extensive collection of paralegal degree and paralegal career information for researching the best paralegal schools, degrees, programs, and certificates. In addition to information on how to become a paralegal, we provide prospective paralegals with an excellent picture of what life will be like once you’ve landed a job and started your career. From the expectations and challenges to the benefits and rewards, you’ll have a very good idea of what being a paralegal is all about.
Table of Contents
- Paralegal Degree Information
- Steps to Getting a Paralegal Degree
- Paralegal Schools by State
- Paralegal Degree Program Profiles
- Paralegal Degree Curriculum
- Paralegal Career Information
- Why Becoming a Paralegal Is a Promising Career Choice
- Paralegal Interviews
- Top Paralegal Scholarships
- Additional Resources
Paralegal Degree Information
People interested in becoming a paralegal may take one of several paths. The most common way to become a paralegal is through a paralegal associate degree program. More than 1,000 colleges, universities, law schools, and proprietary schools offer legal studies or paralegal studies programs, and we feature top accredited paralegal programs to help you find the right school. If you already have a college degree, you might want to pursue paralegal certification. Beyond formal paralegal training, paralegals must have a variety of office and communication skills. They must exhibit attention to detail, be able to research and report on topics, understand legal terminology, and participate in continuing legal and paralegal education. Criminal Justice Degree Schools features paralegal career, salary, and job growth information as well as a series of paralegal career interviews.
A paralegal certificate can help aspiring paralegals get started in the paralegal field and set them apart from other candidates by providing a recognized credential. Earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or a related field can provide even stronger career preparation. Continue reading below to review sample paralegal coursework, steps to getting a paralegal degree, and to search paralegal schools by state.
Steps to Getting a Paralegal Degree
Once you’ve decided that a paralegal career is for you, you should follow the steps below to ensure you choose a degree program that is the best fit for you and your career goals.
1. Choose the type of degree or certificate you want to pursue.
The first step to getting a paralegal degree, legal studies degree, or certificate is to choose a program type. Most law firms require at least a minimum of an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. In the increasingly competitive job market, however, more and more employers are requiring a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or a related field. In fact, according to O*Net OnLine, 44% of respondents say a bachelor’s degree is required, 30% say an associate’s degree is required, and 12% report that some college but no degree is a requirement for becoming a paralegal.1 Criminal Justice Degree Schools features links to top paralegal blogs where you can learn more about the career and its requirements.
For an entry-level paralegal job, a paralegal certificate can be a good place to start. Many law firms require more education, but as mentioned above, there are paralegal employers that hire applicants with some college credit, and certification as a paralegal is looked upon favorably by potential employers. Admission requirements for certificate programs usually include a high school diploma or equivalent. In a certificate program, you can expect to gain the practical skills you will need to be successful in the legal field. Paralegal certificate programs will take a few months or one semester to one year to complete and may include courses like Essential Paralegal Studies: Foundational Skills and Paralegal Business Law. Keep in mind that if you are looking for the best opportunity to be hired, you may want to target a higher level of education before entering the field. Paralegal certificates are available both on-campus in a traditional format or online for students who have other commitments that may prevent them from attending class at set times.
Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies
Many law firms require a minimum of an associate’s degree in paralegal studies, legal studies, or a related field. Associate degrees usually take around two years of full-time study to complete, and can often be a stepping stone to gain further education down the road. In an associate degree program, students will learn practical skills, like how to write depositions and perform title searches, and acquire knowledge about subjects such as the foundations of law, real estate transactions, and ethical issues. Associate’s degrees are offered on-campus in a traditional format as well as online for those prospective students who require a more flexible schedule or want to work while they pursue their degree. 30% of paralegals report that jobs in the field require an associate’s degree or greater.1
Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies
A bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies is the most common education required for paralegals according to O*Net OnLine.1 Bachelor’s degrees typically take four years to complete full-time, though there are some accelerated programs available, as well as online paralegal degrees that may offer students the ability to complete their degrees more quickly. Bachelor’s programs almost always require a high school diploma or equivalent to be admitted. A bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies will provide you with a strong foundation in the field, practical skills, and a more in-depth study of law, including advanced courses such as Intellectual Property Law, Jurisprudence, Comparative Law, and internships. Many paralegal studies bachelor’s programs will allow students to choose a specialty so that they can focus on a more particular area of the field in their career. An internship can be a beneficial part of a bachelor’s program because it introduces students to potential employers and exposes them real-world cases that can provide valuable experience. Bachelor’s degrees are offered on-campus and online, or through a combination of both.
Post-Graduate Paralegal Certificate
Advanced, graduate paralegal certificates are offered by many schools for those who have a four-year degree in another field and wish to change careers or for those who have been in the paralegal field for some time and want to advance their careers. Admission requirements typically include a baccalaureate degree from a regionally-accredited institution. A post-graduate paralegal certificate will provide a solid foundation for those entering or strengthening their position in the legal field. Courses in a post-graduate certificate program may include American Jurisprudence, Litigation, and Advanced Legal Writing. As with other certificate programs, post-graduate paralegal certificates are offered on-campus or online.
Master’s Degree in Paralegal Studies
Some particularly motivated students opt to pursue a master’s degree in paralegal studies. While a master’s is hardly ever a requirement for a paralegal job, this credential is most often pursued by those seasoned paralegals who are looking to advance their careers or those who have been out of the job market by serving in the military or raising a family and wish to reenter it via the paralegal field. Admission requirements typically include a baccalaureate degree from a regionally-accredited school. A master’s degree in paralegal studies usually takes two years to complete full-time and covers advanced aspects of the profession including courses such as Legal Theory and the Role of Law in American Society. Master’s students are challenged to develop their critical thinking skills, improve their research capabilities, and hone their writing skills. Master’s degrees in paralegal studies are also offered in both a traditional, on-campus format and an online format. Since students pursuing a master’s degree are often already working, many choose to take advantage of online opportunities, as these afford them more flexibility. Note that the ABA does not approve fully-online paralegal programs, so if you decide to go this route, be sure to do your research and choose a well-known program that is supported by positive student reviews.
2. Decide whether you want to go to school full-time or part-time.
Of the many schools that offer paralegal degree programs, there are both full-time and part-time options. If you are one of the many students who choose to work while they pursue a degree, a part-time degree may be the best fit. This way, you can attend part-time evening and weekend classes, or even pursue a paralegal degree online, making a degree or certificate program a more feasible option.
3. Narrow your legal focus.
Although you can pursue a general paralegal degree, the law covers a wide range of subjects, from criminal law to corporate law, from patent and copyright laws to estates and wills. Since most lawyers specialize in one or two areas of law, specialized training can be an asset when seeking employment. Depending on the topics that you find most interesting, you will have a number of education options within each of these fields to pursue.
4. Choose a paralegal degree program.
Finally, once you’ve narrowed down your choices, be sure to pick a regionally and/or nationally accredited college or university. The ABA offers a Directory of ABA Approved Paralegal Education Programs that is searchable by state. If you seek structure and in-person collaboration in your degree program you may seek a traditional program. If flexibiltiy is what you seek, you should consider an online or hybrid program. Note that the ABA does not approve fully-online paralegal degree programs, so use caution when choosing an online program by reading reviews and talking to graduates and professors. Once you apply and are accepted, you’re on your way to becoming a paralegal, so get to work!
Paralegal Schools by State
Below is a comprehensive list of paralegal-specific state pages with for researching requirements, schools, coursework, salary, and job outlooks for paralegals across the United States. Your location doesn’t matter – from Memphis, Tennessee to Missoula, Montana, we’ve got you covered!
- Select One
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Washington DC
- West Virginia
Paralegal Degree Program Profiles
Traditional Paralegal Degree Programs
Davenport maintains a Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies program that prepares students for careers as paralegals and legal assistants and can also lay the foundation for further study in law school. The 120-credit hour program provides study beyond the associate’s degree level in fundamental areas of paralegal knowledge such as litigation procedures, computer applications for law offices, ethics, and further study in legal specialties. Available specialty electives include Evidence and Criminal Procedure, Estate Planning and Probate Law, and Employment and Labor Law. Study abroad courses specific to paralegal study in Comparative Legal Analysis and Special Legal Topics are also offered. Students who already hold a bachelor’s degree may pursue the Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Paralegal Studies offered by the university. Program graduates consistently pass the national paralegal certification exams at a higher rate than the national average. All Paralegal Studies programs at Davenport University are approved by the American Bar Association.
Loyola University’s Institute for Paralegal Studies in Chicago offers a Bachelor of Arts in Paralegal Studies as well as a variety of certificates for those who have already obtained a bachelor’s degree, including certificates in Litigation Practice, Corporate Practice, Litigation & Corporate Practice, and a Customized Certificate including a specialized curriculum. The BA in Paralegal Studies requires 48 credit hours or 52 credit hours for a dual track. Three tracks are offered including Litigation Practice, Corporate Practice, or a combined Litigation & Corporate Practice track. Major courses for all three tracks include Advanced Topics in American Law, Advanced Legal Analysis & Writing, Introduction to Paralegal Studies, Legal Research & Writing, and Legal Ethics. Loyola’s paralegal programs are approved by the ABA and the school itself is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. To be accepted into the bachelor’s program, prospective students should have obtained a minimum of 15 semester credits in paralegal studies. According to a recent survey, 96% of adult students are likely to enroll at Loyola’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS) again.
Peirce College offers a Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies with flexible scheduling options. Practical and theoretical legal knowledge and skills applicable to real-world demands are emphasized in the curriculum, which consists of courses such as Legal Technology, Advanced Legal Research, Advanced Legal Writing, and Professional Legal Responsibility. Students also take capstone or cooperative work experiences for program credit. After completing the four foundational courses in a traditional on-campus environment, students may elect to take further courses online, on-campus, or in a hybrid combination. A Certificate of Proficiency in Paralegal Studies is offered for students who already hold a bachelor’s degree. Program faculty are legal experts who remain involved with the legal community from the local to the national levels, which helps ensure that coursework is aligned with changes in the legal industry. The Paralegal Studies program at Peirce College is approved by the American Bar Association.
Online Paralegal Degree and Certificate Programs
Duke University’s Continuing Studies Department offers a fully-online Paralegal Certificate program. The certificate program is built for career-changers and requires either a two-year associate degree or a bachelor’s degree in any subject. The program, open to potential students inside and outside of the state of North Carolina, comprises two parts: Essential Skills courses and Substantive courses, which are completed one after the other. The certificate program consists of 300 hours and should take one year to complete and the instructors include accomplished and seasoned attorneys. Courses include Fundamentals of the Profession, Legal Research and Writing, Legal Ethics, and Tort Law. Students enrolled in Duke’s program enjoy a self-paced curriculum with no deadlines or due dates defined.
Liberty University’s online program offers a fully-online Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies. The BS in Paralegal Studies is designed to give students not only the practical skills they will need to thrive in the legal environment, but also a solid foundation of particular aspects of law, including contemporary worldviews, rhetoric, and real estate. Students will practice tasks such as performing a title search and filing a deposition. A biblical approach is used to give graduates a lens through which to approach ethical dilemmas and think critically to solve problems that may arise. The BS in Paralegal Studies at Liberty includes 120 total credit hours (30 hours of upper-level coursework) and courses such as Foundations of Law, Legal Research & Writing, Real Estate Transactions & Property, Criminal Practice & Procedure, Wills, Trusts & Estates, and Corporate & Business Organization Law. The BS in Paralegal Studies is a four-year degree that requires a high school diploma or equivalent to apply.
Paralegal Degree Curriculum
While each paralegal program will vary based on the school and the degree type, following is a list of common courses that may be a part of a paralegal degree program. Check with your school(s) of choice to read about the coursework offered there.
- Introduction to the Paralegal Profession
- Legal Research
- Legal Writing
- Civil Litigation
- Contract Administration & Analysis
- Tort Law
- Criminal Law
- Business Organizations
- Legal Ethics and Responsibility
- Legal Technology
- Law Office Computer Applications
- Secured Transactions & Bankruptcy
Paralegal Career Information
Seeking education from a paralegal school is a great way to launch a career assisting lawyers with preparing for trials, hearings, and corporate meetings. In addition to working for law firms, paralegals often provide assistance to the legal and finance departments in large corporations as well as nonprofit and government organizations.
Visit our Paralegal Career page to learn find a general job description, career outlook, and salary and benefits. For information about specific paralegal careers, check out these pages:
Why Becoming a Paralegal Is a Promising Career Choice
The American Bar Association (ABA) defines a paralegal as follows: “a person qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.” Put in simpler terms, a paralegal is a professional staff member who performs allowable legal tasks under attorney supervision.
If you’re seeking a challenging and engaging position in a growing field, consider pursuing this career. Paralegals are a vital part of any legal team, and they take on interesting, important assignments that often vary on a daily basis. If you enjoy investigating facts, performing research, writing, and working with people in a fast-paced atmosphere, chances are you may enjoy this career path.
Interesting and Engaging Work Environment
The exact job duties of a paralegal (sometimes called a “legal assistant”) can greatly vary depending on where they’re employed and the area of law in which they work. Paralegals perform tasks such as conducting legal and factual research, drafting court documents and correspondence, reviewing and summarizing records, filing documents with the court, maintaining files, and communicating with clients. They can do many of the same tasks that an attorney can do, with the exceptions of accepting cases and setting fees, giving legal advice, and representing clients in court. About 72% of paralegals work for law firms according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, but governmental agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations also utilize these professionals.1
Many Options for Education
In most states, there are no specific education requirements to become a paralegal. Many community colleges, technical schools, and universities offer specific degree programs to prepare for this career, including certificates as well as associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in paralegal and legal studies. It’s also possible, but increasingly rare, to obtain a position based on other work experience and with on-the-job training only. When deciding on a school, consider choosing one with an ABA-accredited paralegal program. ABA-accredited curricula must meet strict criteria established by the ABA, and by choosing an ABA-approved program you can rest assured that you’re getting a quality education.
Strong Employment Outlook
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the paralegal job field is expected to grow at a rate of 8% through 2024.1 As law firms and other employers continue to cut budgets while the demand for legal services increases, employers are choosing to utilize paralegals whenever possible, since paralegals can perform legal tasks at a lower cost per hour than attorneys. The BLS predicts that the industries with the strongest job growth for paralegals over the next few years will be finance and insurance firms, consulting firms, and healthcare providers.1
Paralegal and Legal Studies Degree Jobs
While many who pursue a legal studies or paralegal degree are seeking a job as a paralegal, others may enter other related job fields. Following are a few other job paths that may be available for legal studies and paralegal studies majors. Keep in mind that more education will be required to become a lawyer.
You can also view current job openings in your state and research job requirements on our Criminal Justice Jobs Board.
Competitive Salary & Benefits
A 2015 National Association of Legal Assistants & Paralegals (NALA) study on paralegal salaries indicated that the average annual paralegal salary was $55,188. According to the 2015 NALA survey, paralegals also received an average of $4,581 in bonuses each year. The BLS provides a significantly lower number, listing the average salary for paralegals in 2015 at $48,810, with the highest-earning 10% of paralegals making over $79,010 per year.1 The main driver for the disparity is likely the level of professional involvement of self-selected respondents to the NALA survey as well as sample sizes; the NALA survey results are based on 1,069 responses, whereas the BLS uses much larger data sets compiled from nationwide long-term population information from the US Census Bureau and other state and federal agencies.
Within the salary ranges available, it’s important to understand that how much an individual paralegal makes depends on many factors including their background, job performance, type of employer, and area of law. It is possible for an experienced paralegal working in a highly specialized or technical field to make a six-figure salary. Most paralegal positions also include numerous other benefits such as medical, dental, life, and disability insurance, paid time off, and company-matched 401(k) or IRA accounts. Many employers also provide tuition reimbursement or pay for classes and seminars.
Average Annual Salary by State
- New York: $57,920
- Florida: $50,300
- Texas: $53,190
- Illinois: $51,120
- California: $59,230
Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2015.
We interviewed paralegal leaders from across the country to provide professional career advice.
- Kristine M. Custodio, President of the San Diego Paralegal Association
- Karen R. George, President of the South Florida Paralegal Association
- Lori Boris, President of the Minnesota Paralegal Association
- Lynda Cmara, President of New Haven County Association of Paralegals in Connecticut
- Rachel Nesbit, Vice President of the Mississippi Paralegal Association
- Best Paralegal Career Advice From 17 Leaders in the Paralegal Field
Top Paralegal Scholarships
- Jean H. Proffitt Scholarship Fund – A scholarship that helps Richmond, Virginia area students with tuition and book expenses.
- Lawassa B. Jones Memorial Scholarship – An annual $500 scholarship for students pursuing a degree in paralegal or legal assistant studies by the Tennessee Paralegal Association.
- Jamie Bowie Memorial Scholarship – An annual $250 scholarship for students enrolled in an ABA-approved program by the Oklahoma Paralegal Association.
- US Directory of Paralegal Associations – Our comprehensive directory features over 140 US paralegal associations organized by state. Joining a paralegal association can help you network and advance your career. Find the associations near you.
- National Paralegal Certification – Learn about the different paralegal certification options available and the requirements for earning certification.
- Top Paralegal Blogs – Criminal Justice Degree Schools has published a list of the Top Paralegal Blogs from thought-leading bloggers to provide insights and career advice for aspiring paralegals who are interested in acquiring a degree and beginning a successful career in this field.
- Top Criminal Law Blogs – Learn about the criminal area of the legal field by viewing our top criminal legal blogs.
- Top Divorce Law Blogs – Read about divorce law on our top divorce law blogs list.
- Free Criminal Justice and Law Lectures – Our Free Criminal Justice Lectures resource provides video and audio lectures from 15+ criminal justice and law-related college courses that are available to watch or listen to online for free, taught by professors from top US universities like Harvard, Yale, New York University, and UC Berkeley.
1. O*Net OnLine, Summary Report for Paralegals and Legal Assistants: http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/23-2011.00
2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Paralegals and Legal Assistants: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm#tab-1
3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2015 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oessrcst.htm