13 Best Online Colleges for Paralegal Studies in 2016
A paralegal often works closely with attorneys and personnel, playing Dr. Watson to their Sherlock Holmes. While paralegals and attorneys perform similar tasks, a paralegal does not practice law or provide any legal advice to clients. However, paralegals do work alongside lawyers in preparing cases for trial. They may interview clients, conduct extensive research, and draft legal briefings and other documents. A paralegal’s responsibilities vary by firm; some practices will assign specialized tasks to paralegals, while other firms will bestow more varied responsibilities. Most schools offer an associate degree in paralegal studies, but bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies are becoming more prevalent. Students should seek programs approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 1,000 institutions offer formal paralegal training programs, but only about 270 of these are approved by the ABA. Attending an institution that is approved by the ABA will ensure that employers will recognize their degrees once they have graduated. In these paralegal programs, learners will study legal research and writing. They will learn how to read and use legal journals, digests, government documents, and legal databases such as LexisNexis. Eventually, they will draft briefs and other legal documents. In some instances, employers may hire college graduates with a liberal arts degree and train them on the job. Keep in mind that internships, a familiarity with legal terminology, and strong investigative skills will make graduates more attractive to employers. Students can gain practical experience by working with a private law firm, a corporate legal department, or a legal aid organization. Paralegals earned a median annual wage of $46,680 in 2010, according to the BLS, and employment opportunities are projected to increase 18% through 2020. More law offices will be looking to reduce costs, so hiring more paralegals and legal assistants as opposed to more lawyers will become more commonplace, the BLS noted. However, keep in mind that individual salary and job prospects will vary from these figures, depending on the job seeker’s experience, employer, and job location. Paralegals may also work in areas other than litigation, such as real estate law, patent and copyright law, and corporate law. No matter what area they work in, paralegals must employ critical thinking and communication skills to perform their job effectively. They should be detail-oriented and enjoy researching and writing about complicated issues. To enhance their employment opportunities, paralegals can seek certification from the National Association of Legal Assistants. A number of other national and local organizations offer certifications to students who pass a standard exam or meet certain experience-related or educational requirements.