If you’re interested in becoming a paralegal, you can earn an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. In about two years, you’ll have the education needed to qualify for entry-level employment. An associate degree is an excellent option for students unable to commit to a four-year program. Once you have your associate’s degree, you can transfer to a four-year college or university or transition immediately into the workforce. An associate degree is a practical choice, especially for students who have jobs or other responsibilities that require a significant time commitment. Some schools allow you to take classes online, either all or just a few, depending on the paralegal program you choose.
Other advantages of choosing an associate’s degree: 1) You’ll get a better-paying job and 2) You’ll save money. But cutting the time required to earn your degree, you’ll save a substantial amount of money and still have a degree that can open many doors. Most law firms and other employers of paralegals require at least an associate degree to qualify for employment. While all similar in regards to the material covered and reference books recommended, various paralegal studies associate programs – from associate of science, to associate of applied science, to associate of arts – exist. Any of these options are suitable for someone looking to break in to the legal profession at the entry level.
While paralegal professionals (or paraprofessionals) may not be licensed to practice in a court of law, the field is vital to the advancement of the legal industry, and the work of paralegals is often considered fundamental to the success of licensed lawyers in various legal settings. Paralegals can find employment at large and small law firms, corporations, and non-profit organizations. Paralegals and legal assistants typically do the following, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- Investigate and gather the facts of a case
- Conduct research on relevant laws, regulations, and legal articles
- Maintain documents in paper or electronic filing systems
- Gather evidence and other legal documents for attorney review and case preparation
- Write reports to help lawyers prepare for trials
- Draft correspondence, such as contracts and mortgages
- Get affidavits that may be used as evidence in court
- Help lawyers during trials by handling exhibits, taking notes, or reviewing trial transcripts
- File exhibits, briefs, appeals and other legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
Jobs & Salaries
The paralegal field is expected to maintain relatively substantial growth through 2018 – to the tune of a 28 percent increase in a span of 10 years. Trained paralegal specialists working in traditional legal services might expect a median annual income of approximately $45,000. However, salary trends for paralegals working in the aerospace or semiconductor industry can receive between $72,000 – $89,000 annually (BLS.gov).
Once admitted to a paralegal studies associate’s degree program, students can expect relevant coursework as the study of the American legal system, criminal law, technology in law, litigation, and legal research and writing. Such programs take, on average, about two years (24 months) to complete, but can be completed in as short as 18 months in some cases.