Best Online Paralegal Graduate Certificate Programs
Share this Article
An online paralegal graduate certificate can prepare graduates to launch their paralegal careers, where they benefit from above-average salaries and a strong professional outlook.
What do paralegals do? A paralegal or legal assistant helps attorneys prepare for trial, drafts legal documents, and researches legal questions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), paralegals earned a median annual salary of $56,230 in May 2021, or over $27 an hour. Paralegals also benefit from faster-than-average projected job growth.
BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
Ready to Start Your Journey?
An online certificate program takes less time to complete than a degree program while preparing graduates for paralegal careers. Many top online schools offer paralegal certificate programs, and the distance learning format prioritizes flexibility, making it possible for students to work while earning a certificate. Our rankings list the best online paralegal graduate certificate programs to help prospective students find the right fit for their schedule and professional goals.
What Is an Online Paralegal Graduate Certificate Program?
An online paralegal graduate certificate offers a focused, graduate-level curriculum that covers legal studies and key paralegal skills. Unlike a voluntary professional certification or a license to practice, certificate programs educate learners in a specific subject area. Unlike a degree-granting program, certificates typically take 12 months, rather than two or more years.
Many colleges offer undergraduate and graduate paralegal certificates. Graduate certificate programs, designed for students with a bachelor's degree, help students start careers as paralegals. During the certificate, learners take graduate courses and earn graduate credits. These credits can then transfer into master's programs, including a master's in legal studies.
What Can I Expect From an Online Paralegal Graduate Certificate Program?
Online paralegal programs provide career-focused training for legal roles like paralegal and legal assistant. Completing a graduate certificate program typically takes less than one year. Depending on the program, learners can expect to complete 15-25 credits of coursework to earn their graduate certificate.
During an online paralegal program, learners take courses that explore the legal profession, litigation, and paralegal ethics. Programs also emphasize legal research and writing skills, which play a central role in the paralegal profession. The curriculum trains learners to identify key legal issues, communicate complex information, use legal technologies, and research legal questions.
Many programs offer electives to specialize the degree. Students can choose classes in family law, real estate law, employment law, or estate planning to focus their studies. Courses focused on legal practice areas like administrative law, international law, corporate law, and intellectual property law help graduates pursue focused career paths with their certificates.
Successful graduate certificate students bring strong organizational and self-motivation skills. Paralegal programs also require attention to detail and an ability to communicate effectively. The certificate emphasizes in-demand skills like teamwork and interpersonal communication.
Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Degree Programs.
Featured Online Programs
Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.
What Courses Will I Take in an Online Paralegal Graduate Certificate Program?
American Legal System
The course introduces future paralegals to the legal system, including the court system and the history of the U.S. legal system. Students also learn about the roles and responsibilities of paralegals, including ethical rules.
Legal resource courses prepare paralegals to research complex topics in the law. Students explore legal databases and different tools for conducting legal research. They also learn how to cite regulations, rulings, and statutes.
Paralegals need strong legal writing skills. This course trains learners to draft and review legal documents. The topics include motion writing, creating briefs, and advanced legal writing techniques.
Litigation courses train paralegals to support attorneys during trials. Students learn how to use legal technology, explore the litigation process, and study the rules of civil and criminal procedure.
Classes on contracts introduce graduate learners to the required elements for legally-binding contracts. The course also covers the legal responsibilities of contract signers and the preparer. Students strengthen their legal reasoning abilities by evaluating contract disputes. They also learn how to draft contracts.
What Are Admission Requirements for an Online Paralegal Graduate Certificate Program?
Like other graduate-level programs, applicants need a bachelor's degree to gain admission to online paralegal graduate certificate programs. The certificate particularly appeals to candidates with a bachelor's degree in another field. A graduate certificate provides focused, advanced training for future paralegals.
Paralegal programs admit applicants with undergraduate degrees in diverse fields. Most programs do not require prior legal training. However, strong research, writing, and problem-solving skills serve paralegal graduate students well.
Most programs also require official transcripts for undergraduate coursework, a statement of purpose, and one or more letters of recommendation. The statement of purpose should explain the applicant's preparation for graduate study and their goals with the certificate. Letters of recommendation from former faculty or supervisors should speak to the applicant's ability to succeed in the program. Graduate certificate programs typically do not require standardized test scores.
Common admission requirements for a paralegal graduate certificate include:
- Bachelor's degree
- Official transcripts
- Statement of purpose
- Letters of recommendation
What Can I Do With an Online Paralegal Graduate Certificate?
A paralegal graduate certificate provides graduate-level training for careers as a paralegal or legal assistant. According to the BLS projections, paralegal and legal assistant jobs will grow faster than the national average from 2020-2030. That translates into over 41,000 new jobs. While an associate degree meets the minimum education requirement for these roles, a graduate certificate demonstrates advanced training for paralegal responsibilities.
According to the BLS, paralegals earned a median annual salary of $56,230 in May 2021. The top-paying paralegal jobs paid more than $88,640 per year.
In addition to these common career paths, a paralegal certificate can also lead to other careers. Some graduates work as legal administrative assistants or executive assistants. A background in legal studies also yields opportunities as an arbitrator, mediator, claims examiner, or conciliator.
A paralegal graduate certificate leads to many opportunities in the legal field. Learn more about law careers.
Paralegals assist attorneys. They draft contracts, research laws and regulations, and manage evidence for trials. In small firms, paralegals perform a variety of duties, while those at larger firms often specialize in a focused area like evidence review or document maintenance. Paralegals also interact with clients.
Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $56,230
Similarly to paralegals, legal assistants support lawyers in diverse areas of law like litigation, corporate law, and contract law. They organize data collected as part of a case, help lawyers prepare for trials, and conduct legal research. While they are often known as paralegals, some law firms and employers differentiate between paralegals and legal assistants.
Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $56,230
Legal Administrative Assistant
Legal administrative assistants support attorneys and paralegals. The career requires an understanding of legal terminology and experience working in legal settings. Legal administrative assistants may process legal documents, draft motions, and conduct legal research. They typically earn higher salaries than other administrative assistants.
Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $47,710
Mediators help clients resolve disputes outside of the legal system. Like arbitrators, mediators meet with clients and encourage discussion. They help both parties reach an agreement. When the clients cannot agree, mediation ends. Mediators typically bring some legal training to their role, including a background in legal studies.
Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $49,410
Claims examiners work for insurance organizations, where they make sure claims meet requirements. They may work in health insurance, life insurance, or another branch. Claims examiners need strong attention to detail and an ability to apply policies to real-world situations. A background in legal studies is beneficial for claims examiners.
Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $64,710
Paralegal Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.
Paralegals do not need a license to work in legal settings. However, some employers prefer to hire paralegals who complete a voluntary certification program. These programs typically set minimum requirements for the credential, such as a mix of education and work experience. Certifications may also require passing scores on a paralegal exam.
After earning an online paralegal graduate certificate, learners can continue their education with a master's in legal studies or law school to become licensed attorneys. Generally, a paralegal graduate certificate represents the highest degree for most paralegals.
How Do I Choose an Online Paralegal Graduate Certificate Program?
The cost of graduate certificates varies. Generally, learners pay graduate tuition rates. In 2019-2020, the average graduate tuition reached nearly $20,000 per year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Students paying in-state tuition at public schools generally pay lower rates. An online option can also be more affordable compared to in-person programs. Prospective applicants should consider miscellaneous expenses such as forgone income and technology fees to calculate the true cost of a program.
Many online programs offer several format options. Students can choose between a full-time or part-time enrollment. Some programs offer accelerated options. Distance learners typically take courses synchronously or asynchronously. Asynchronous classes do not require set meeting times, which often appeals to working students.
Whether choosing an online or in-person program, location matters. Students may benefit from attending a school in their local area, especially if the program has in-person requirements. Local programs also often cultivate relationships with law firms and other organizations that hire paralegals.
Prospective certificate students should always choose an accredited university. Accredited institutions meet high standards for academic excellence. These schools can also distribute federal financial aid. Credits earned at an accredited school are more likely to transfer to other schools. For more information, check out our online college accreditation guide.
The best online universities offer strong support services. These student services include mentorship programs, academic advising, tutoring, and internship programs. Many schools also offer strong alumni networks and career services. Ask potential programs about their online student services.
Best Accredited Online Paralegal Graduate Certificate Programs
Rankings compiled by the the BestColleges Ranking Team
Is your school on this list? Get the BestColleges ranking seal.
How We Rank Schools
At BestColleges, we believe a college education is one of the most important investments you can make. We want to help you navigate the college selection process by offering transparent, inclusive, and relevant school rankings.
Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read our ranking methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that is best for you.
Frequently Asked Questions About Online Paralegal Graduate Certificate Programs
Is a paralegal graduate certificate worth it?
A paralegal graduate certificate can prepare learners for careers as paralegals or legal assistants. Graduate certificates generally cost less than degrees, and the focused training emphasizes career-ready skills. According to the BLS, paralegals earned a median salary of $56,230 in May 2021. That exceeds the national median wage of $45,760 by more than $10,000.
For many students, a paralegal graduate certificate pays off. The graduate-level certificate may help professionals qualify for higher-paying roles. The top-paid paralegals earned more than $88,640 per year as of May 2021.
What can you do with a paralegal graduate certificate?
A paralegal graduate certificate can lead to a career as a paralegal or legal assistant. These career paths are in-demand, according to BLS projections. The program offers focused coursework that emphasizes the skills necessary to be a paralegal. However, legal studies training can also prepare students for other career paths. For example, graduates can work as legal administrative assistants or mediators.
With legal studies training, professionals can also pursue careers as arbitrators. However, because a paralegal graduate certificate program is focused and career-centered, most graduates pursue jobs as paralegals after earning their certificate.
Is a paralegal graduate certificate program hard?
A paralegal graduate certificate requires certain skills. Students should possess a detail-oriented outlook and strong research skills. During the certificate program, learners gain familiarity with different legal software programs and tools. Courses on legal research and writing strengthen students' ability to research and cite statutes as well as provide the writing skills required for contracts, motions, and other legal writing.
Since paralegals typically work on teams with attorneys, other paralegals, and legal administrative assistants, the field also requires interpersonal communication skills. An online learning format requires self-motivation and organization.
How long does it take to get a paralegal graduate certificate?
Earning a paralegal graduate certificate generally takes one year. During a graduate certificate program, learners take graduate-level courses in paralegal studies. Depending on the program, students complete 15-25 credits to earn their certificates. The coursework may overlap with a master's in paralegal studies or legal studies. However, certificate programs require less time than a degree-granting program.
Some accelerated graduate certificates may even take less than a year. Online programs make it possible to work while earning a paralegal graduate certificate.
What's the highest paying job you can get with a paralegal graduate certificate?
A paralegal graduate certificate provides focused training for a career as a paralegal. According to the BLS, the highest-paid paralegals earned a median annual salary of $88,640 in May 2021. Salaries also vary by location. In California and Washington, paralegals earned an average salary of over $70,000, while paralegals in Washington, D.C., made $83,420 on average.
Paralegals can increase their earning potential with experience or by moving into certain industries. Paralegals who work for the federal government or in finance and insurance earn more than the median salary for all paralegals.
Find the Tools You Need to Get Started on Your Degree
Feature Image: milorad kravic / E+ / Getty Images