As a paralegal, you work behind-the-scenes in law firms, government and businesses ranging from the entertainment industry to the financial district. Training for this specialization varies based on the position, duties and the type of paralegal or legal assistant job you're hoping to find.
Bachelor's degrees in paralegal studies typically combine targeted coursework with other academic subjects. General education classes can help you develop skills in communication, research and critical thinking that will be needed on the job.
Paralegal studies train you to prepare legal materials for purposes such as lawsuits, real estate transactions or criminal prosecutions. You can also learn to draft documents used in custody, separation and divorce proceedings. Other topics include case analysis, filing pleadings with the court and the ethical considerations of legal practice. Working paralegals need extensive knowledge of technology, such as document management software, information retrieval tools and specialized analytical programs.
Career outlook for paralegals
Paralegals earned median annual wages of $46,680 in 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Between 2010 and 2020, 46,900 job openings are projected in the field, with growth of 18.3 percent, outpacing the average growth for all U.S. occupations. The BLS expects formally trained paralegals with some related experience to see the strongest job prospects.
While an associate degree is often the minimum entry-level requirement, hiring managers for more competitive positions may require four-year degrees. The Department of Labor's O*NET website reports that 44 percent of paralegals have a bachelor's degree, compared to 30 percent with an associate degree. Among certification options, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations offers the Registered Paralegal exam for paralegals with a bachelor's degree and at least two years of work experience.
Advancing beyond bachelor's degrees in paralegal studies
Advancement for paralegals comes in many forms. After earning a bachelor's degree, you might go on to administrative or managerial positions, delegating assignments and supervising entry level legal assistants. You could also choose to move from a smaller law firm to a larger one with more responsibilities and a higher profile.
No matter what path you choose within the industry, a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies is a smart way to continue to develop your skills. Choosing online education means completing training on your own time, allowing you to keep your current job as you head back to school.