Paralegal Studies

Paralegals are individuals who have legal training but are not lawyers. They work closely with lawyers and complete all of the detail work necessary in legal matters. According to the Department of Labor, 70% of paralegals work in law firms, and the remaining paralegals work for corporate legal departments and government agencies.

Many individuals become paralegals as a stepping-stone on their way to getting a law degree. To become a paralegal, an individual must first obtain a certificate, associate's degree or bachelor's degree in paralegal studies.

Paralegal Studies Training

Careers in paralegal studies are attractive to graduating high school students and adults alike. There are many different education options to serve these different groups of prospective paralegals. There are a handful of universities across the country that offer a bachelor's degree in Paralegal Studies. Obtaining a 4-year degree in the subject is excellent preparation for law school. The curriculum for a bachelor's degree is coupled with general education courses.

There are certificate programs available in paralegal studies that can be obtained online. These programs are targeted toward working adults and have flexible schedules. Depending on the school, they may be designed for people who are looking to change careers and already hold a degree in another subject. Many certificate programs require their students to specialize in a particular aspect of the law. Certificate programs are attractive because they normally take around a year to obtain.

Students can obtain an associate's degree in Paralegal Studies from a local community college or, in some cases, an online program. In addition to studying legal topics, a paralegal studies associate's degree program may include computer training and courses on legal research.

Choosing a Paralegal Studies Program

The most important consideration when choosing a paralegal program is whether or not the school or organization has been approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). There are over 1,000 colleges, universities and programs that offer training in paralegal studies across the United States. However, only 260 programs are approved by the ABA. Attending an ABA-approved program will give graduates an edge in the paralegal job market. However, programs that are not approved do provide plenty of training and preparation toward becoming a successful paralegal.

Paralegal Studies Certification

After obtaining a degree or certificate in paralegal studies, many individuals seek out further certification to make them stand out in the job market. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers one such certification program. Paralegals who are interested in becoming Certified Legal Assistants (CLA) are required to take a 2-day test. Once they pass the test, they may use the title CLA in their career.

The NALA also offers advanced certification for special legal topics. There is also a certification program offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Association (NFPA). The certification is available to paralegals that hold a bachelor's degree in Paralegal Studies and have at least two years of experience. After taking and passing the NFPA examination, they may use the Registered Paralegal (RP) title.

By Courtney Ramirez           

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