As a paralegal, you could perform a wide array of tasks to support lawyers, including legal research, database searches and managing case documents. Paralegals, also called legal assistants, typically work in law firms, but are also found in insurance and real estate companies, corporate legal departments, banks, nonprofits, community legal services programs, consumer organizations, and government agencies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment for paralegals to grow faster than average, with strong opportunities for those who have formal training.
Associate degrees in paralegal studies
An associate degree is one of the ways to find entry-level positions in the field, according to the BLS. Associate degrees in paralegal studies usually include general education classes and coursework in contracts, legal research and writing, real property, torts and personal injury, civil litigation, and professional responsibility and legal ethics. Here are some options for advanced or special interest studies:
- Criminal law
- Environmental law
- Legal documentation and contracts
- Patents, trademarks and intellectual property
- Tax law
- Wills, estates and probate
The Department of Labor reports that about 18 percent of paralegals or legal assistants have associate degrees while nearly 34 percent hold bachelor's degrees. Those with an undergraduate degree in a different field can seek a certificate in paralegal studies. In addition to regular bachelor's degrees in paralegal studies, some schools offer "two-plus-two" programs that allow associate degree holders credit toward a bachelor's degree.
Although not as common as associate and bachelor's degrees, master's degrees in paralegal studies can blend historical, theoretical and philosophical perspectives with communications, legal analysis, ethics and technology for a comprehensive and rigorous education, generally in a specific area of law. Doctoral degrees in paralegal studies are rare although there are doctoral programs in legal studies.
Paralegal career options, outlook and salary
The BLS projects excellent job growth of 28 percent for paralegals and legal assistants between 2008 and 2018. However, the job market is also expected to be competitive, with the best employment opportunities available to those with higher levels of training. The median salary in 2010 was $46,680; paralegals and legal assistants in the District of Columbia were paid the highest wages.
Online associate degrees in paralegal studies represent a convenient option for working students and those with family obligations. Whether you plan to seek immediate employment as soon you've earned your online associate degree or continue on for a bachelor's degree, you can seek rewarding positions in this high-demand profession.