From the largest law firms to the smallest private practices, paralegals play an essential role in the legal profession. As a paralegal, you will work closely with lawyers to perform research, interview clients, and prepare legal documents. In addition to working in an engaging and fast-paced work environment, you will feel the satisfaction of helping people in your community and beyond.
Whether embarking on a new career or returning after an absence, earning a paralegal degree online provides many advantages over other educational paths. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 8% growth in the paralegal field from 2014 to 2024. The fact that the profession boasts a median annual salary of $49,500, well above the national average, is also a major draw. Finally, if you decide to switch careers after working as a paralegal, your education will impress potential employers, as it confers many skills modern office workers require.
What are the best paralegal programs of 2020? Here are our top 3:
|1||Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College||Saint Mary of the Woods, IN|
|2||Mississippi College||Clinton, MS|
|3||George Washington University||Washington, DC|
What Will I Learn in an Online Paralegal Graduate Certificate?
Your paralegal graduate certificate requires you to complete two to three required courses and a handful of electives. As states' laws differ, your paralegal education will differ depending on your state of residence, as well. If you plan to work in a state different from the one where you currently reside, research paralegal programs located in the state where you plan to work. The courses below represent only a sample curriculum. Your program's courses may differ.
- Essential Paralegal Studies Part I: Foundational Skills: As the name suggests, this course provides you with the foundation you need for both your future courses and your paralegal career. Course topics include (but are not limited to) legal terminology, interviewing skills, and ethics in the legal profession. Students can expect to take this course — or one similar to it — at the beginning of their program.
- Essential Paralegal Studies Part II: Authority, Research and Writing: After learning the basics, students move on to the advanced writing and research methods that paralegals use to assist attorneys. Courses like this include in-depth instruction in specialized reference tools employed by legal professionals. You can also expect to hone your skills through writing practice summons, depositions, and motions.
- Paralegal Business Law: Business law regulates the four types of businesses in the U.S.: partnerships, sole proprietorships, limited-liability companies, and corporations. This course provides learners with detailed instruction on legal requirements applicable to business ownership. Like the two described below, this class is an elective that you may choose depending on the type of law that interests you.
- Paralegal Contract Law: Many people turn to contract attorneys to draft and review their legal contracts. This course provides learners with two distinct advantages when working with contract attorneys. First, the course imparts the skills necessary to identify even the smallest mistakes in clients' contracts. Second, students learn how to draft contracts for your employer's clients.
- Paralegal Tort Law: When harm comes to a person through a civil wrong, tort law protects them and ensures that the injuring party pays restitution. In this course, students learn much about issues such as medical malpractice and product liability. The course may also include instruction on the recent efforts to reform tort law on the national and state levels. Personal injury attorneys often employ paralegals knowledgeable about tort law.
2020 Best Accredited Online Paralegal Graduate Certificate Programs
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
|Saint Mary of the Woods, IN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 57%||
SMWC's post-baccalaureate paralegal certificate allows students to increase their knowledge related to the legal profession, litigation, liability, and numerous practice areas. The program prepares individuals to serve in a variety of roles within law firms, businesses, and nonprofit organizations.
The 36-credit program features 12 core classes. Students learn about the law, ethics, and society, as well as the basics of contracts and legal research. They also take an elective course, choosing from topics like criminal law, family law, law office administration, interviewing, and investigating.
Incoming students must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution. Applicants need to submit their official college transcripts. SMWC is a private liberal arts school located in western Indiana.
|Clinton, MS||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 53%||
The online paralegal graduate certificate at MC enhances students' knowledge of legal concepts, preparing them to provide quality assistance to attorneys across a variety of practice areas.
This 27-credit paralegal studies program includes courses on legal writing, wills and estates, family law, legal research, and property transactions. Individuals who finish the program often go on to serve in law firms, businesses, and public-sector agencies.
Eligible applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited college or university. Prospective students need to submit their official college transcripts during the application process.
Students may take all of their certificate classes online, although the school also offers some in-person evening sessions at its campus in Clinton. In-state and out-of-state residents pay the same tuition.
George Washington University
|Washington, DC||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 82%||
GW's paralegal graduate certificate teaches students to clearly communicate, conduct research, examine legal issues, avoid conflicts of interest, and meet the needs of legal professionals and clients.
Students may combine this certificate with GW's healthcare corporate compliance certificate. They may also apply certificate credits toward a master's degree in paralegal studies. Aspiring paralegals may take classes online or on campus in Foggy Bottom or Alexandria. Distance courses are delivered through an asynchronous format.
The program requires incoming learners to hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited postsecondary institution. Applicants should also submit a personal essay, a resume, official college transcripts, and at least one recommendation. GW is located in Washington, D.C. All students pay the same tuition, regardless of where they live.
What Can I Do With a Paralegal Certificate?
Earning an online paralegal associate degree or certificate prepares you for careers outside the legal field. For example, paralegal programs confer many of the skills office workers require to excel at their jobs. The positions and salaries below represent just the tip of the iceberg of potential careers for which your paralegal education may qualify you to perform.
- Administrative Assistants
Administrative assistants work in every industry. Your paralegal education will prepare you to run your employer's office, work with the public, and solve problems as they arise.
Median Annual Salary: $37,230
Projected Growth Rate: 3%
- Library Technician and Assistants
Library technicians require the same research, writing, and interpersonal skills taught in paralegal courses. In this position, professionals work with with the public to locate materials and assist visitors with research. Library technicians often complete clerical tasks assigned by senior librarians.
Median Annual Salary: $28,440
Projected Growth Rate: 5%
- Training Managers
Training managers identify which employees in their company need training before developing and implementing a training plan. Your paralegal certificate may fulfill your company's education prerequisite for management-level positions.
Median Annual Salary: $105,830
Projected Growth Rate: 7%
Accreditation for Graduate Certificate Programs
When researching potential programs for your paralegal graduate certificate, only consider those that hold accreditation. Accreditation functions as a seal of approval that a school or program earns after an examination by an outside agency. Accreditation agencies rate a program's rigor and curriculum. Even for certification programs, accreditation is a mark of excellence that employers value when considering applicants.
All reputable colleges and universities should have some form of regional accreditation. Six regional accreditation agencies operate in the United States, each supervised by the Department of Education. These agencies oversee educational programs at all levels. National accreditation agencies evaluate specialized learning programs such as distance or online education. As a result, your online paralegal associate degree program should have national accreditation. Finally, independent accreditation agencies oversee programs in their respective fields. The American Bar Association remains the gold standard for paralegal education accreditation.
Financing Your Online Paralegal Graduate Certificate
Many avenues exist to pay for your online paralegal degree. No matter your financial situation, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Completing the FAFSA makes you eligible for federal grants, work-study programs, and loans, the latter of which have lower interest rates than traditional bank loans. Also, your program may offer scholarships, loans, or work-study opportunities. Finally, remember to research scholarships explicitly created for future paralegals, such as those sponsored by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.
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