Paralegals and legal assistants work at law firms and legal offices, performing a wide range of services to help lawyers prepare for trials and hearings. Their day-to-day duties include obtaining affidavits and evidence for use in court, researching case law, filing exhibits, and reading trial transcripts.
Paralegals perform various tasks related to client recordkeeping, legal documentation, and other administrative needs. They also contact clients, witnesses, and attorneys to schedule meetings and legal depositions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 285,600 paralegals and legal assistants are currently employed in the United States.
Many paralegals begin their careers with an associate degree program in paralegal studies or another law-related field. Most paralegal studies associate degree options include internships, where students receive supervised training from experienced lawyers and law office personnel. Many of today's students choose to earn their paralegal studies associate degree online.
Web-based students follow the same rigorous curriculum as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, leading to the same number of job opportunities following graduation. The asynchronous (or self-paced) structure of most online paralegal studies programs proves ideal for students with part-time jobs, childcare responsibilities, and other commitments that may interfere with campus-based learning.
Learn more about what you can do with an online associate degree in paralegal studies program and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with this comprehensive guide.
- Can you get a paralegal degree online?
Yes. Many online schools offer both associate and bachelor's degrees in paralegal studies or a related topic. Read more here.
- Are online paralegal degrees qualified?
The American Bar Association (ABA) recognizes that several online paralegal degrees satisfy certain state educational requirements. All ABA-approved online paralegal programs must be qualified for two years beforehand. Read more here.
- How do employers treat online paralegal degrees?
Employers, particularly those in a business environment or government agency, will hire graduates with online paralegal degrees from reputable, accredited programs. Read more here.
- How to get a paralegal degree online
For consideration, most online paralegal associate degree applicants must have a high school diploma or GED and meet minimum GPA requirements. These requirements vary from school to school. Read more here.
- Is an online paralegal degree worth it?
Many students earn an associate degree or obtain a paralegal certificate online. Some pursue a bachelor's or master's degree, but paralegal programs at this level are quite rare. Read more here.
Choosing a Program
Will an online paralegal studies associate program provide me with the skills I need to advance my career?
Online paralegal studies associate programs cover all essential areas of the profession, including client recordkeeping, legal research or writing, and fundamentals of trial, corporate and international law. Internships also allow students to supplement their coursework with off-site training and apply the skills and knowledge to real-world situations. Many of today's employers will only hire paralegal candidates who have earned professional certification; the best online paralegal studies associate programs prepare students for exams and other certification requirements, as well.
Will an online paralegal studies associate program work with my schedule?
Online associate degree in paralegal studies programs offer a flexible alternative to traditional, classroom-based education. Students can access course lectures and readings, participate in virtual discussions with fellow students, submit written assignments, take exams, and communicate with professors from their home computer.
Current technology also allows learners to study on the go using a laptop, tablet, smartphone, and other portable devices with WiFi capabilities. For added convenience, online students can usually coordinate internships and other practicum courses at legal offices and other sites located within a reasonable distance of their current residence.
What jobs can I get with my paralegal studies associate degree?
U.S. News & World Report notes that the legal assistant profession does not carry strict educational requirements. Many paralegals enter the workforce with a high school diploma or equivalent, so candidates with an associate in paralegal studies will be well positioned to compete in the job market. Other career pathways for those with a paralegal studies degree include roles such as court reporters, information clerks, legal secretaries, and administrative assistants.
What are the best online paralegal studies associate programs?
Choosing a program is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school's strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online paralegal studies associate degree programs in the United States. If you are considering an online paralegal studies associate program, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific associate degree requirements and offerings.
The Best Online Paralegal Programs
|Lynchburg, VA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 47%||
Founded in 1971 in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty University offers more than 600 programs, including undergraduate, graduate, and online options for students who desire more flexibility. Students can earn an online paralegal degree from Liberty by enrolling in the online associate of arts in paralegal studies. Liberty hosts 100,000 students -- 30,000 of which are military -- representing all 50 states and more than 80 countries.
The paralegal program at Liberty features a fully online curriculum delivered in eight-week courses. The university boasts accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and delivers a rigorous 60-credit curriculum. Students typically take about two years to finish their program and enjoy the opportunity to transfer in up to 75% of their degree credits from another institution.
Through their coursework, students gain a better overall understanding of the legal system by focusing on economic and political ideas, free market processes, and government institutions. The flexible format of the online program allows working professionals to develop and transform their careers by earning an education in paralegal studies without needing to quit their job. Graduates of the program pursue careers as legal assistants, paralegals, and legal secretaries.
Liberty prides itself on providing top-of-the-line education to military students. The university features a per-credit tuition discount for these students along with an additional discount for veterans serving in a civilian capacity as first responders. Students can also earn college credits for specific military training.
University of Alaska, Fairbanks
|Fairbanks, AK||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 30%||
Featuring seven campuses across Alaska, the University of Alaska Fairbanks offers both undergraduate and graduate programs, with more than 89% of the student body pursuing undergraduate education. The only tier-one national university in Alaska, the school boasts an 11-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio and provides students with an individualized approach to their education. Students can explore a variety of online programs at the university, including an online paralegal degree if they enroll in the associate of applied science in paralegal studies program.
In the paralegal studies program, students train for employment as legal assistants and paralegals, delivering legal services under the direct supervision of a practicing lawyer. Many students in the program already work as paralegals and enter the program to advance their skills and education. The online program features approval from the American Bar Association and requires students to complete at least 10 credits of coursework in person. Students can work with their adviser to meet their in-person requirements at the Fairbanks campus or through a local institution. Students typically graduate the program in two years.
|Fort Lauderdale, FL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 59%||
Founded in 1977 to better serve nontraditional learners seeking career-focused educational programs, Keiser University is the third-largest nonprofit university in Florida; it serves nearly 20,000 students, 66,000 alumni, and 3,800 employees. Keiser features a campus in 18 of Florida's midsized and major metropolitan areas.
Regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, Keiser offers more than 100 undergraduate and graduate programs, including several online options. Students interested in working in the legal field under the direct supervision of practicing lawyers can pursue an online associate of arts in paralegal studies program.
The coursework in the online paralegal program prepares students to support attorneys in litigation and transactional fields through document drafting, legal research, case management, the litigation procedure, and evidence gathering. The 60-credit curriculum includes 24 credits of coursework from areas such as criminal law, legal research and writing, real property, and family law. The other 34 credits of required coursework include general education courses such as English, humanities, communications, and economics. Courses help develop written and verbal competencies, as well as critical-thinking, analytical, and technical skills.
Holmes Community College
|Goodman, MS||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 37%||
Regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to grant certifications and degrees, Holmes Community College has five campuses across Mississippi. Established in 1911, the college originally began as Holmes County Agricultural High School. Today, the college offers a variety of programs including an online associate of applied science in paralegal technology.
The online paralegal degree prepares students to become paralegals with the skills and knowledge needed to perform tasks in a variety of settings. The university offers courses for the program on campus and online, and all courses in the program offer voice podcasts -- providing students with abbreviated lectures and other unique methods of engagement.
The curriculum prepares students for entry-level employment opportunities working as a paralegals for corporations, in courts, government agencies, and law firms. Coursework covers topics including legal research, law office management, contracts and business law, and wills and estates.
Based on standards created from the National Association of Legal Assistants' Certified Paralegal Examination, the curriculum highlights research data collected from a review of relevant literature and surveys of local business experts. The university offers affordable tuition to paralegal studies students.
|Naples, FL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 27%||
A private university located in Naples, Florida, Hodges University began as International College in 1990 and adopted its new name in 2007. The university's Fort Myers campus opened in 1992. Regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the university awards associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees. Additionally, Hodges offers several online programs to students who need flexibility with their education. Students interested in working in the legal field under the supervision of a licensed attorney can pursue an online associate of legal studies degree.
The legal studies pathway caters to working students building toward a future career. Hodges boasts a small 14-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, and admissions staff work with applicants to determine the best course for their legal studies program depending on their work experience and educational background.
Hodges offers an associate of science in paralegal studies for students interested in working at law firms. Upon earning this degree, students can assist legal professionals and attorneys with evidence collection, communications, legal research, and litigation preparation. Hodges also features "stackable" degrees, allowing students to complete their associate program and immediately transfer their credits into the corresponding bachelor's program.
Alexandria Technical & Community College
|Alexandria, MN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 57%||
Known for some of the highest graduation, retention, and career placement rates among two-year colleges in Minnesota, Alexandria Technical & Community College boasts accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission and provides quality education to students just starting their education or looking to expand their career opportunities. Students looking for a career in law can pursue an online paralegal degree.
In the online paralegal program, students gain extensive training in the handling and preparation of legal documents and correspondence; they also develop their skills in ethics, writing, investigation, research, trial preparation, and the interpersonal skills needed to thrive in the industry. Students must complete 63 credits of coursework to graduate, and course topics include accounting for business, paralegal skills and legal writing, legal office procedures and ethics, and critical thinking in society.
Students complete 29 credits of coursework during their first year and 30 credits of coursework during their second year. Students need four credits of a summer internship to complete their program. Graduates of the paralegal program go on to pursue careers as legal assistants, paralegals, senior court clerks, property specialists, credit investigators, and bankruptcy analysts.
Mountain Empire Community College
|Big Stone Gap, VA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 37%||
A public community college accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, Mountain Empire Community College is one of 23 schools in the Virginia Community College System. First offering classes in 1972, the college serves residents of Lee, Scott, Dickenson, and Wise counties -- as well as the city of Norton. Students interested in a law career can pursue an online paralegal degree.
The online paralegal degree at MECC consists of courses that instruct students on the processes of American law and prepares them for paralegal certification exams. Graduates of the program can demonstrate strong communication skills with lawyers, witnesses, court personnel, clients, coworkers, and business professionals using the appropriate legal terminology and formatting for written communications. Additionally, students learn to perform basic legal analysis and research to identify legal issues and potential solutions to legal problems.
Students must complete English and math placement tests and can receive college credit for some on-the-job experiences. The curriculum comprises 67 credits of coursework and covers topics including ethics for the paralegal, legal research and writing, family law, and business mathematics. Full-time students typically take two years to earn their degree.
Atlanta Technical College
|Atlanta, GA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 44%||
Part of the Technical College System of Georgia, Atlanta Technical College serves students in Fulton and Clayton counties. Originally established in 1945 as Smith-Hughes Vocational School, the college became ATC in 2000. Today, the college offers a variety of educational programs on campus and online. Students interested in working as paralegals or legal assistants can pursue their associate degree in paralegal studies. Students may take several courses online but must earn at least 12 credits in a traditional classroom setting.
Paralegal studies students at ATC learn to use appropriate legal terminology in written and oral communication, produce legal documents, apply legal concepts to factual situations, actively conduct legal research, and compose an effective legal argument. The program boasts approval from the American Bar Association and prepares students for rewarding careers as paralegals. The paralegal program equips students with the legal knowledge and practical skills they need to succeed in the legal industry.
Hutchinson Community College
|Hutchinson, KS||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 38%||
Hutchinson Community College holds accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission and offers associate degrees and various certificates, including several online program options. Students interested in the legal field can pursue a paralegal degree online at Hutchinson.
Paralegal students at HCC learn how to provide integral and critical support to lawyers working in private law firms, corporations, the government, and public institutions -- effectively establishing themselves as important players in the legal system. The program comprises 64 credit hours of coursework covering topics such as real estate law, personal finance, legal and ethical issues in healthcare, and advanced legal research and writing. Students typically complete their program within two years if enrolled full time.
A required internship component allows students to gain valuable field experience in exchange for college credit. Upon graduation, this experience helps them transition into their careers. Internships also allow students to relate their coursework to actual experiences, strengthening their overall understanding of the paralegal profession.
Madisonville Community College
|Madisonville, KY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 43%||
Located in Madisonville, Kentucky, Madisonville Community College was originally established as a member of the University of Kentucky's Community College System in 1968. MCC offers technical diplomas, associate programs, and certificates, and students interested in a law-related degree can pursue the online associate in applied science in paralegal technology.
Students in the paralegal technology program complete a rigorous curriculum developed by the National Association of Legal Assistants that prepares them for the certified paralegal examination. Students enrolled full time who complete the suggested amount of credits each semester can complete the program within two years, and the school requires a minimum 2.0 to graduate. Instructors deliver online coursework through Blackboard, and MCC features a help desk to answer any questions about online courses.
Clovis Community College
|Clovis, NM||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 47%||
Clovis Community College in Clovis, New Mexico, receives accreditation from the ACCJC Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Many students at Clovis are working professionals attending college to expand their career opportunities and educational experiences. Those interested in the legal field can pursue an online paralegal degree.
Paralegal students at CCC undergo a broad-based curriculum in law, allowing them to explore the discipline before they specialize. The fully online program covers topics such as communication skills, wills and estates, criminal procedures, and family law. Consisting of 66 credits, the paralegal program typically takes students five semesters to complete. Students may also pursue a certificate in legal assistant studies consisting of 30 credits, which takes two semesters to complete.
Upon acceptance, students work with an academic adviser to find a degree plan they can follow. The curriculum prepares students to work as paralegals assisting attorneys as they deliver various types of legal services. Graduates go on to work in private law firms, the government, and corporations.
|Springfield, MO||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 55%||
Originally opened as Springfield College, Drury University offers undergraduate and graduate programs, including several online options for students who need flexibility as they pursue their education. Many students at DU continue their professional careers as they pursue an online education to expand their job opportunities and qualifications. For those interested in law, the university features an online associate of science in paralegal studies.
The online paralegal program at DU provides students with a focused study of American court systems, criminal law, civil law, constitutional law, legal research, and legal writing. Students must complete a legal practicum, which functions as an unpaid internship, with a practicing attorney that emphasizes the practical application of various legal concepts.
The curriculum requires a minimum of 21 credit hours of degree-specific coursework on topics such as interviewing and investigating, legal research and writing, and litigation. Students must also satisfy general education requirements, amounting to 27 required credits. DU holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission and prides itself on providing students with the quality education they need to develop the skills and knowledge they will use throughout their paralegal careers.
Itawamba Community College
|Fulton, MS||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 43%||
Itawamba Community College, formerly Itawamba Junior College, operates in Northeastern Mississippi. With locations in Fulton, Belden, and Tupelo, the college serves Chickasaw, Itawamba, Lee, Monroe and Pontotoc counties. Boasting regional accreditation from the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC), Itawamba offers a variety of associate degree programs, including an online associate of applied science degree in paralegal technology.
The online paralegal degree prepares students to perform specifically delegated substantive legal work under the direct supervision of an attorney. Students in the program undergo training in legal research and writing, family law, civil litigation, wills, and other legal areas. Students gain an excellent foundation for entry-level positions at corporations, law firms, government agencies, and other entities. Students who complete the first 30 credits of coursework earn a career certificate.
The curriculum requires paralegal students to complete 61-62 credits of coursework. Those who take 15 credits each semester graduate in two years. Students learn about a variety of topics, including wills and estates, law office management, civil litigation, and legal writing. Itawamba features affordable tuition rates for full-time students, charging state residents $1,450 per semester and out-of-state students $2,550 per semester. Students can review potential fee costs, which may vary by student, on the school's website.
Pasco-Hernando State College
|New Port Richey, FL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 32%||
A Florida state college with campuses in Hernando and Pasco counties, Pasco-Hernando State College maintains campuses in New Port Richey, Dade City, Brooksville, Spring Hill, and Wesley Chapel. Regionally accredited by SACSCOC, PHSC awards associate degrees and two bachelor's degrees. The school offers online options, as well, including an online associate in science in paralegal studies.
Students pursuing their online paralegal degree at PHSC must meet with an academic adviser to review the proper sequencing of their courses. The college boasts affordable tuition rates with lower costs for in-state students. Paralegal students must complete 46 credit hours of coursework to successfully finish their program. Students cover a variety of topics throughout their program, including law and legal ethics, criminal law for paralegals, and real property law. Students must also participate in a paralegal internship.
During their internship, students gain valuable field experience. They can relate the topics they learn in their courses to actual tasks performed by paralegals. After graduation, this experience helps many graduates transition into their careers more easily than those who have had no exposure to the profession or industry. Graduates can find work as paralegals or legal assistants, and can work at private law firms, government offices, and corporations of all sizes.
Ivy Tech Community College
|Indianapolis, IN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 16%||
Founded in 1963 as Indiana Vocational Technical College, Ivy Tech Community College originally concentrated on vocational and technical education. Over the last 50 years, the college has shifted focus immensely. Today, Ivy Tech operates as Indiana's only full-fledged community college, offering over 150 programs at a variety of schools and operating nearly 100 transfer programs with in-state and out-of-state options.
The college offers hands-on experience to its students, providing some of the most advanced training facilities and technologies in the state. Learners can participate in more than 1,000 online classes. Students interested in entry-level legal positions can pursue an online paralegal degree at Ivy Tech.
The paralegal program at Ivy Tech features highly qualified, experienced faculty, including judges and practicing attorneys. The program offers many unique benefits, including access to a mock courtroom and the opportunity to host oral arguments from the Indiana Court of Appeals. The program aims to give students the knowledge and skills to succeed as paralegals under the direct supervision of lawyers or to successfully transfer into a four-year institution.
Ivy Tech boasts many graduates who currently work in private law firms as legal assistants and paralegals. Many graduates also work as court staff and in businesses' and corporations' legal departments. Students can collaborate with a transfer advocate to explore their options for shifting into a related bachelor's program.
Nassau Community College
|Garden City, NY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 24%||
A public community college in East Garden City, New York, Nassau Community College began as part of the State University of New York system. The college opened in 1960 with 632 students, and held classes inside of an old courthouse. Today, NCC awards the highest number of associate degrees in the state of New York and the third-highest number of associate degrees for a single-campus, two-year public college.
Many students at NCC are working professionals pursuing an associate degree to expand their career opportunities and broaden their skill sets and knowledge base. Students interested in entry-level legal positions can pursue an online associate of applied science in paralegal studies.
Nassau students pursuing their online paralegal degree enter a program with a rigorous curriculum approved by the American Bar Association. Students develop a broad understanding of practical skills and the law and gain experience in a legal setting. Graduates can pursue careers at insurance companies, law offices, banks, title companies, government agencies, and private industries. Students learn to work under the direct supervision of a practicing attorney and provide assistance in all areas of practice, except for setting fees, appearing in court, and giving legal advice.
Students can transfer in a maximum of nine paralegal credits from another accredited institution. They must complete 10 credits of coursework in the traditional format at NCC. To successfully complete the program, students must maintain a C average in all of their law courses.The curriculum requires 64-66 credits, covering topics such as business law, law office management, and legal research and writing.
Western Piedmont Community College
|Morganton, NC||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 29%||
A small community college in Morganton, North Carolina, Western Piedmont Community College began in 1964 as a member of the North Carolina Community College System. The campus rests on nearly 300 acres, featuring rolling hills, a pond, a tennis court, and lush foliage. Students at the college can choose from a wide variety of associate programs, including three transfer options. They can also pursue online programs, including the online associate in applied science in paralegal technology.
Students earning their online paralegal degree complete 67 credits of coursework, which they can complete in two years of full-time study. Learners must complete 12 credits in general education courses, nine in humanities and fine arts courses, nine in social and behavioral science courses, 23 in required core courses, and 26 in other major courses. Courses cover areas including criminal law and procedure, principles of financial accounting, civil injuries, and family law.
The program primarily features a web-based format, allowing students to take classes where and when they are able. For courses requiring face-to-face meetings, students use online video conferencing software, broadcasting from a classroom at the college. Learners can decide whether they want to attend these courses in-person or use the web conferencing option. Students with disabilities can contact the college's disability services department to request special accommodations.
Minnesota State Community and Technical College
|Fergus Falls, MN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 36%||
Offering more than 70 liberal arts and career programs, including more than 25 online options, Minnesota State Community and Technical College functions as a member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. The public community and technical college features several campuses throughout the state of Minnesota. The modern version of the school came into existence in 2003 with the merger of Fergus Falls Community College and three Northwest Technical College campuses.
Students interested in gaining the skills and knowledge to work as legal assistants can pursue the college’s online paralegal degree. The online paralegal program equips students with the writing and legal research skills they need to excel in a variety of law-related positions. Students learn how to work effectively under the supervision of an attorney in legal areas such as government agencies, law firms, corporate law, and court administration.
Learners must complete 60 credits of coursework, including training in civil law, criminal law, wills and property law, legal research and writing, and legal ethics. Coursework also teaches students how to analyze substantive and procedural legal problems to manage caseloads.
Through M State's program, students learn to analyze basic principles of accounting, develop legal writing skills, understand ethical and social responsibility, and improve their written and oral communication skills. The college does not hold any special admissions requirements other than a completed admissions application and an application fee.
Community Care College
|Tulsa, OK||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 73%||
Founded in 1995 as a dental assisting school, Community Care College now functions as a private career college in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The school is licensed by the Oklahoma Board of Private Vocational Schools and accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. The college moved to its current location in 2003. The college educates working professionals pursuing degrees to expand their qualifications and career opportunities.
The online paralegal degree offers students the chance to gain the skills and knowledge to work as legal assistants and paralegals. The paralegal studies program features a fully online format, allowing students to earn their degrees in just under a year. The school offers Oklahoma’s only fully online paralegal program, allowing students the flexibility to learn whenever and wherever they want. Students enjoy access to instructors by email, phone, text, video conference, and chat.
Instructors always respond within 24 hours, and often sooner. Online students can also visit campus at any time to use resources and meet with professors in-person. Students learn how to do various tasks to support lawyers, including research, client interviews, writing, and administrative tasks.
Program coursework covers a variety of topics, including legal research and writing, paralegal ethics, contracts, torts, and criminal law. Students in the online program can continue working while completing their education, since the program features asynchronous courses which learners can complete at any time and place. Learners also save money in the online program since they do not have to pay for commuting expenses.
Northwest Mississippi Community College
|Senatobia, MS||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 25%||
Northwest Mississippi Community College provides students with opportunities to obtain an affordable, quality education to meet their diverse individual needs. The institution operates as a comprehensive technical and community college, offering both traditional and online programs. The college's distance learning courses provide students with maximum flexibility for their education. Northwest promotes excellence in educational programs and strives to maintain quality educational support services.
Boasting regional accreditation from SACSCOC, Northwest features one of the best online associate programs in paralegal studies. The online paralegal program boasts a fully online curriculum, including courses that prepare students to enter into their paralegal careers immediately following graduation. The curriculum adheres to American Bar Association guidelines and consults with area legal practitioners.
Program graduates work as legal assistants and paralegals in government offices, consumer organizations, and law offices. Graduates primarily provide legal assistance to attorneys. Students must complete 60 credits of coursework to successfully complete the program. Full-time students who take 15 credits of coursework each semester can usually finish their degrees in two years.
After their first 15 credits of coursework, students earn their law office assistant certificate. Learners can obtain technical certification and paralegal certification as they continue their studies. Once they complete all 60 credits, students earn an associate of applied science in paralegal studies.
Georgia Military College
|Milledgeville, GA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 25%||
A military-focused educational institution in Milledgeville, Georgia Military College divides into a junior college, military junior college program, high school, and middle school. Established in 1879 as Middle Georgia Military and Agricultural College, the college adopted its current name in 1900. GMC functions as one of only four military junior colleges participating in the U.S. Army’s early commissioning program.
Students who graduate from a two-year, military science-oriented program at GMC receive an officer’s commission through the U.S. Army. Students can also pursue online programs at the college, including an online associate degree in paralegal studies.
The paralegal program prepares students for entry-level positions in both the public and private sectors of the legal community. The program aims to educate, prepare, and train students to assist attorneys in their daily tasks. Students learn both legal and practical skills, with coursework focused on communication, critical thinking, computer and organizational skills, and research.
Through their program, students learn to articulate various philosophical principles in jurisprudence and develop research plans based on fact patterns. Learners also evaluate statutory law, case law, and constitutional law.
Students can pursue either an associate of arts or an associate of science in paralegal studies, each featuring separate course requirements and focus areas. In the AA program, students must complete 70 credit hours. In the AS program, students complete 65 credit hours of coursework. Both programs require classes in humanities, arts, ethics, social sciences, and other core areas.
Laramie County Community College
|Cheyenne, WY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 27%||
Located in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Laramie County Community College was established in 1968. The school offers nearly 80 associate degrees and 30 certificates of completion, along with several noncredit courses. The college boasts a plethora of student services, including on-campus residence halls, counseling and advising, free tutoring and paper reviews, access to physical education facilities, and an on-campus bookstore.
Students who desire more program flexibility can pursue several online opportunities at LCCC, including an online paralegal program. Paralegal students learn to work effectively, providing various types of legal assistance to practicing attorneys. Learners pursuing their associate of applied science gain the knowledge and technical skills they need to perform ethically and successfully under the direct supervision of attorneys.
Upon program completion, students can perform legal research in a variety of fields using both computer-assisted and traditional methods. Graduates know how to draft pleadings, legal correspondence, legal memoranda, and other documents. The program boasts approval from the American Bar Association. Students should check with their adviser before enrolling in general education courses, since they may need to satisfy additional requirements.
Students must complete 64 credits of coursework. Full-time learners take two years to graduate over the course of five semesters. During their first semester, students complete 15 credits, including an introduction to paralegal studies. In their second semester, students complete 12 credits of coursework, focusing on topics like legal research and writing. During their third semester, students take only six credits, concentrating on topics like law office management. The fourth semester comprises 15 credits, and the last semester features 16 credits of coursework.
Rio Salado College
|Tempe, AZ||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 14%||
Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, Rio Salado College is a community college located in Tempe, Arizona. RSC features associate and certificate programs in in-person, online, and hybrid formats. Founded in 1978, the college began offering its first online classes in 1996, and by 2006 it had converted most courses to an online format. Students interested in entry-level legal roles can pursue the online associate in applied science in paralegal studies.
Paralegal students gain the technical knowledge, skill set, and training they need to obtain employment as a paralegal. The program covers legal foundations and different types of law, including business law, tort law, and litigation. Students learn about paralegal responsibilities in various areas of law practice. They also develop effective oral and written communication skills, cultivate critical-thinking skills, gain computer proficiency, and become familiar with legal research.
The program integrates legal ethics and theory into its curriculum. Students who complete RSC's paralegal program earn both a certificate of completion in paralegal studies and an associate of applied science in paralegal studies.
In the 64-credit program, students must complete 36-39 credits of required coursework, 6-9 credits of restricted electives, and 19 general education credits. The curriculum covers a variety of topics, including paralegals and immigration law, paralegals and environmental law, and family law for the paralegal.
Cerro Coso Community College
|Ridgecrest, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 18%||
Located in Ridgecrest, California, Cerro Coso Community College was established in 1973 in the Kern Community College District. The school offers both traditional and online two-year degrees and serves an area of about 18,000 square miles. The college boasts five instructional sites and several student organizations. Students interested in the legal field can pursue an online associate in applied science in paralegal studies.
Online paralegal students enjoy the flexibility to continue working as they pursue their education, expanding their qualifications and career possibilities. Graduates go on to pursue careers as paralegals, legal document preparers, legal assistants, and certified paralegals in specialty areas such as social security, criminal law, real estate, and constitutional law.
During their program, students gain training in all aspects of the legal system, including legal research, client interviews, legal briefs, and court procedures. Graduates can analyze information and data to help attorneys with client cases throughout the legal process. They can also maintain legal schedules, process all types of legal documents, and organize and draft legal documents and records.
Students complete a rigorous curriculum, with coursework covering topics such as business law, legal ethics, probate law, and bankruptcy law. The program does not require any special admissions requirements. Applicants must complete an admissions application and pay an application fee to gain admission.
Eastern Kentucky University
|Richmond, KY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 44%||
A regional, comprehensive university in Richmond, Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University boasts accreditation from SACSCOC. Maintaining campus locations in Hazard, Corbin, Manchester, and Lancaster, EKU offers more than 40 online graduate and undergraduate programs, including an online associate degree in paralegal studies.
Paralegal students at EKU participate in a partially online program which prepares them to successfully and quickly enter the workforce in a variety of entry-level paralegal positions. Graduates can easily transition into a bachelor's program to further expand their career opportunities. Students can complete all but 10 credits of their paralegal program online, totaling 64 credits to graduate. The university features convenient transfer opportunities, allowing students to transfer in up to 49 prior credits.
Courses follow eight-week terms. The university also offers job placement assistance to graduating students. Intensive and unique residency experience opportunities provide students with access to paralegals, judges, and practicing attorneys. These experiences also allow students to use the courthouse vault and law library.
EKU offers affordable tuition rates, charging students approximately $400 per credit hour. Active duty military students enjoy a discounted tuition rate of $250 per credit hour. The university does not require associate students to submit special materials for admission; candidates only need to complete an admissions application and pay the application fee.
Interview with Melissa Funk
Melissa S. Funk is a paralegal and client services professional at Saxton & Stump with over 16 years of legal experience. As a paralegal, she uses her extensive knowledge of preparing pleadings, discovery, subpoenas, and medical records requests to assist the firm's lawyers. Melissa also serves as one of the firm's client services professionals. Prior to joining Saxton & Stump, Melissa worked as a legal assistant for a law firm in their civil litigation practice. She also has experience in employment law, landlord/tenant disputes, and estate matters.
- Why did you choose to earn a degree in paralegal studies? Did this field always interest you?
When I was in high school, I was working at a supermarket and a lady who worked there was as a paralegal. She would talk about her job, how much she enjoyed working with attorneys, and how much she enjoyed what she did. I started asking her questions and I became really interested. This became my focus of what I wanted to do after high school.
- How much drafting of legal documents did you do in your associate degree program? Did your program focus on certain areas of the law, or was it more general?
There wasn't a lot of drafting of legal documents in the associate degree program. It was more focused on shorthand, typing, transcription -- more of the secretarial aspect. I did learn about drafting of documents and examples of how documents looked, but it wasn't the main focus. I received an overview of all the different types of law.
- What skills did you gain in your degree program that you're able to apply to your work on a day-to-day basis?
I would say the skills I gained that I can apply most to my day-to-day would be typing and computer skills. Today, everything is becoming more electronic and less paper, so it's important to have excellent typing skills and to know how to work different programs on the computer to assist your attorneys.
- Did you complete any internships or field experiences as part of or in addition to your degree program? If so, how did that impact your desire to work as a paralegal?
Yes, toward the end of my associate degree program there was an opportunity for a paid internship position with a sole practitioner, and I was lucky enough to get it. The internship impacted me in a very positive way and continued my desire to work as a paralegal. This is where I had one-on-one training with the attorney, who was able to walk me through step-by-step. In the beginning, I had more of a secretarial role, but as time went on and I learned more, I was handling more paralegal work. I also learned billing and had managerial roles.
- What was the job search like after completing your degree? Did you feel fully prepared when making the transition from school to the workplace?
I was very lucky that I had a paid internship that turned into a full-time job for four years, so I didn't need to look for a job after I graduated, and it was an easy transition for me to go from school to the workplace.
- What are some of the challenges you face in your work on a day-to-day basis?
Communication with attorneys and other staff is a very big challenge in my day-to-day work. You can work on a case with four or five other people, and others are being asked to do one thing and you are asked to do another, and then you don't know what is going on. It's key to communicate with each other and to be on the same page.
- What advice would you give to students who are considering a degree in paralegal studies?
I would say that you need to be dependable, a team player, organized, driven, and always willing to learn. The law is such a fascinating field to be involved in. You get to be involved with clients and be part of the process. You need to find what type of law you like most because if you don't, you won't enjoy going to work every day. Don't be afraid to ask questions and to think outside the box!
What Else Can I Expect From an Online Associate in Paralegal Studies Program?
|Program Costs||$6,000-$20,000 in annual tuition|
|Related Areas of Study||Legal Studies, Legal Assistant, Criminal Justice, Law Enforcement, Office Management/Administration, Administrative Assistant, and Secretarial Science|
|Accreditation||ABA Standing Committee on Paralegals|
Example Courses for an Online Paralegal Associate Program
While the exact classes required by each school will vary, students should expect to gain a strong foundation in legal writing and research as well as an understanding of several areas of law. Learners should also expect to complete general education courses in English, math, and science. The sample courses below illustrate courses typically found in a paralegal curriculum.
- Introduction to Law and the Legal System: This course provides an overview of the American legal system, including local, state, and federal courts. Students gain an understanding of the U.S. Constitution, as well as common legal instruments, such as wills and contracts. They discuss professional ethics in the legal field and their responsibility in the attorney-client relationship.
- Law Office Technology: Today's law office utilizes a variety of technologies to improve efficiency. This course covers the standard software applications used to track cases, create documents, and conduct research. Paralegals must know how to access case law using databases such as Westlaw and LexisNexis. Technology continues to evolve with new applications available for tracking time, billing, and ensuring document security.
- Legal Research: The legal profession relies upon precedent and case law. Paralegals often take the lead in researching legal questions by using a variety of resources, such as online databases and legal libraries. This course examines how to research legal issues and ways to write effective legal briefs to present findings.
- Business Law: Business law encompasses several areas of legal practice, such as contracts, real estate, consumer protection, and bankruptcy. Students analyze case law and regulatory requirements for a variety of business activities, including employment decisions and discrimination. Coursework often includes discussion of professional ethics and obligations.
- Criminal Law and Procedures: This course explores both the prosecution and defense of criminal offenses. Students gain an understanding of legal requirements and the procedures used to gather evidence and file charges. The course emphasizes constitutional rights guaranteed to individuals in criminal court. Students also cover the proceedings to move a criminal case through the judicial system, such as plea bargaining, jury selection, and appealing a verdict.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Associate in Paralegal Studies?
Most online paralegal associate degrees require two years and about 60 credits to complete. Students may need additional time to complete their degree if they take reduced class loads. Many schools offer accelerated formats that can decrease the time a student spends in each class to as little as eight weeks, allowing for fewer classes to juggle at once and the possibility of earning additional credits during a year.
If a program utilizes a cohort learning model, students move through the curriculum at the same pace and often in a particular sequence. Individually paced programs allow students to take as many classes as they wish and often in any order they choose, provided prerequisite courses have been satisfied. Students should also consider any internship requirements. Some schools may require a full-time work schedule for that semester, which could preclude students from taking additional classes.
Accreditation for Online Paralegal Associate Degrees
To ensure they are exploring the best online paralegal programs, students should confirm that their college has earned regional or national accreditation before they enroll in classes. Accreditation serves as quality assurance that the school meets certain academic standards. Regional accrediting organizations, such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, were the first groups certify that colleges met stringent guidelines for curriculum quality, facility maintenance, and student resources.
These organizations remain the most widely recognized and accepted accrediting bodies, though several national organizations have formed in recent years. Many schools do not accept credits earned from non-accredited schools and could require students to retake classes, slowing their progress toward a degree and costing additional money.
Some schools also seek specialized accreditation for their legal programs. The ABA offers accreditation of paralegal education programs. Attending an accredited school could benefit students when they begin seeking employment, but most states do not require paralegals to attend an accredited program.
Colleges and universities turn to private organizations to provide their external quality review. But because accreditation remains a requirement to access state and federal student financial aid, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) provide oversight for these private entities and ensure standards are applied uniformly and fairly. More than 80 accrediting agencies operate in the United States, and while some organizations seek recognition from both CHEA and the ED, not all do so. Visit CHEA or the ED for a list of all accredited schools.
Employment Outlook for Associate in Paralegal Studies
According to the most recent data from U.S. News, paralegals face an unemployment rate of 1.9%; by comparison, the national unemployment rate for all occupations currently sits at 3.9%. The following table compares unemployment rates for paralegals and other law-oriented professionals working in the social service sector.
|Occupation||Unemployment Rate (2018)|
|Child and Family Social Worker||2.1%|
|Clinical Social Worker||2.1%|
Many law firms plan to hire paralegals as a strategy for lowering the overall cost of their legal services and attracting a broader client base. Additionally, corporations and nonprofit organizations hire paralegals and legal assistants to bolster their in-house legal departments. As a result, the BLS predicts steady job placement for paralegals and legal assistants in the years to come. Between 2016 and 2026, the industry is expected to grow by 15%.
Earning a Living
According to the 2017-2018 PayScale College Salary Report, individuals with an associate degree in paralegal studies earn median annual salaries of $32,600 during their first five years on the job and $49,400 after a decade in the workforce. Similarly, the BLS lists $50,410 as the median annual salary for paralegals in the United States. However, it's important to note that earning potential for these individuals largely depends on factors such as certification level, employer size, and city/state of employment. You will find a detailed salary breakdown for paralegals and legal assistants in the table below.
Source: BLS, Oct. 2018
The BLS also notes that the highest-paying locations for paralegals are Washington, D.C., Alaska, New Jersey, Washington, and Connecticut. Two other variables can greatly influence salary expectations for paralegals and legal assistants: specific job title and level of work experience. The next table looks at career salary growth for paralegals, legal assistants, and other careers associated with legal support and administration.
|Occupation||Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years)||Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ Years)||Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 Years)||Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ Years)|
Source: PayScale, Oct. 2018
Of the five careers listed, legal secretaries experience the highest rate of career salary growth: a 78% increase in earnings between the entry-level and late-career stages. Legal assistants see the second-highest growth rate, with a 59% salary increase after 20 years in the workforce. Career salary growth for the remaining three occupations ranges from 39% to 43%.
Career and Further Education Opportunities
Students who graduate from an online associate in paralegal studies degree program will be qualified for dozens of entry-level jobs, as well as select leadership roles normally reserved for candidates with a postsecondary education background. Four of the most common career pathways for paralegal studies associate degree recipients are highlighted below.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants: Although many paralegals and legal assistants are hired to perform various legal and administrative tasks, some specialize in niche areas of the field. For example, corporate paralegals primarily handle casework related to business law and regulations, while litigation paralegals mostly support trial lawyers. According to BLS data, there is one paralegal for every 2.87 lawyers in the United States.
Court Reporters: Court reporters create written transcriptions for legal proceedings, such as trials and hearings. They are responsible for reproducing all dialogue word for word and describing the court events in an objective tone. Court reporters who work in legal settings must obtain a professional license in several states, although licensing requirements vary nationwide.
Secretaries and Administrative Assistants: Secretaries and administrative assistants handle an office's clerical and administrative duties. Day-to-day tasks often include filing, document preparation, scheduling, and personnel support. Secretaries and administrative assistants who work in law offices and firms generally have a background in paralegal studies, as well.
Information Clerks: Information clerks collect, manage, and retrieve data records for customers and colleagues. Virtually every professional industry welcomes the assistance of clerks. Legal occupations for these individuals include file clerks who work for large law offices and firms, or court clerks directly employed by local or federal courts.
|Occupation||Median Annual Salary||Projected Industry Growth (2016-26)|
|Paralegals and Legal Assistants||$50,410||15%|
|Secretaries and Administrative Assistants||$37,870||-5%|
Source: BLS, Oct. 2018
Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to paralegal studies are crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below, you will find three of the country's most prominent organizations for professional paralegals. These companies host networking events, provide online training, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates.
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations: Founded in 1974 following a merger of eight paralegal associations, this nonprofit currently represents 55 associations nationwide and more than 9,000 members. The NFPA strives to implement state-by-state standards for paralegal professionals and monitors activities to ensure legal and ethical practices.
- National Association for Legal Assistants: With more than 18,000 members nationwide, the NALA exists the leading professional organization for paralegals and legal assistants in the United States. Members receive access to certification programs, in addition to the website's online career center, continuing ed webinars, and back issues of the Facts & Findings peer-reviewed journal.
- American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.: The American Alliance of Paralegals was founded in 2003 to "advance the paralegal profession by focusing on the individual paralegal." The organization offers the American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) credential; members also receive a complimentary subscription of the Alliance Echo magazine.
Financing Your Online Associate in Paralegal Studies
Despite the relative affordability of online programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.
Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.
Completing the FAFSA is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.
Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you will find for campus-based learning, but that has not always been the case. Learn about changes in aid, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.
Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We've curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.
Online college programs offer a flexible, affordable option for single parents interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We have compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.
Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.