Is a Paralegal Studies Degree for You?

Students enrolled in these degree programs learn to collect and analyze facts pertaining to legal issues, which enables them to work for law firms, government agencies and corporations. Paralegal students practice conducting legal research, drafting legal documents, keeping records, completing investigations and working under the pressures of the court. They also learn to interview clients and oversee the functions of their offices. The work that paralegals perform behind the scenes is essential to the legal process. Students who earn their degrees in paralegal studies should have good job opportunities, as the legal system will always have a need for adept paralegals.

Advice for Earning Your Paralegal Studies Degree Online

Online paralegal courses are comprehensive, effectively equipping students with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in the occupation. The most respected schools and programs are accredited. Accreditation is a measure that ensures colleges are performing to satisfactory educational standards. To see whether your college or university of choice is accredited, search the U.S. Department of Education's Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. You can also find out if your prospective paralegal program is accredited by visiting the American Bar Association website.

Required Courses

Paralegal studies students learn a lot about law in a short period of time. Degree programs consist of courses on legal systems, legal research and writing, family law, computers and law, litigation, consumer law, real estate law and professional ethics. Additionally, students must attain sufficient writing skills, which are essential in the legal field. English and social science classes are typically required for a legal studies degree.

Common Career Paths

A majority of paralegals are employed by law firms, corporate legal offices and various government agencies. Common positions include (but are not limited to):

  • Paralegal

    Because attorneys spend so much of their time meeting with clients, mediating cases and attending courtroom hearings, paralegals play an important role in the legal process. Although the law sets a limit on the tasks a paralegal can perform, they are essential to attorneys because they help expedite the legal process. They draft legal documents, meet with clients and conduct research. Paralegals are also in charge of updating clients on the status of their cases. Although most paralegals are employed by private law firms, they can also work for corporate legal departments and government departments. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of paralegals is expected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations, with an estimated job growth of 18 percent from 2010 to 2020. There is, however, a lot of competition for paralegal positions; those with formal training and education should have the best job opportunities. The BLS also reports that although wages for paralegals are likely to vary widely among employers, the median annual salary of a paralegal was $46,680 in 2010.

  • Claims Adjuster

    These individuals investigate and process the claims of insurance policyholders. They interview the claimant and any witnesses, consult records and inspect damage related to the claim. After evaluating the information they derive from these processes, claims adjusters negotiate a settlement amount with the claimant. Claims adjusters are most commonly employed by insurance companies but they can also be self-employed.

    The employment of claims adjusters is expected to increase at an average rate compared with other occupations, with expected growth estimated at 3 percent between 2010 and 2020. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median annual wages of claims adjusters was $58,460 in 2010. The BLS reports that many claims adjusters, especially those who work for insurance companies, receive additional bonuses or benefits as part of their job.

  • Legal Secretary

    Legal secretaries assist attorneys in preparing for court, hearings and meetings. Under the supervision of an attorney, legal secretaries prepare correspondence and legal documents such as summonses, complaints, responses, motions and subpoenas. Legal secretaries must be familiar with legal procedures, as they also assist with updating clients on the status of their cases, researching legal information, scheduling appointments and maintaining important files. Legal secretaries usually work in private offices.

    Employment of legal secretaries is expected to expand faster than the average for all occupations, as the field is expected to see an increase of 12 percent between 2010 and 2020. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, secretaries and administrative assistants earned a median annual salary of $34,660 in 2010. 

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