Paralegal programs are offered at the certificate, associate, bachelor’s and even master’s degree level. While many paralegals are hired with an associate degree in paralegal studies, some paralegal positions require a bachelor’s degree. The educational requirements often depend on where the paralegal wishes to work. Here is an overview of paralegals, including educational programs and career outlook.
What are Paralegals?
Paralegals are trained professionals who work alongside lawyers and perform various duties to support them in their duties. Some of the tasks performed by paralegals include the following.
- Gathering and arranging evidence for cases
- Conducting legal research
- Organizing and maintaining files
- Writing, summarizing and filing reports
- Filing briefs, exhibits, and appeals with the courts
- Calling witnesses, lawyers, and clients to schedule interviews and depositions
- Drafting correspondence
- Helping lawyers with court cases
Paralegals also attend court hearings with the lawyer. With the assistance of paralegals doing a large majority of the legal work, the lawyers are able to spend more time with their clients and see more clients.
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Paralegal Educational Programs
There are a few different paths one can take to become a paralegal, including completing an associate degree, bachelor’s degree or undergraduate certificate program. Individuals who have a bachelor’s degree in another field may complete a paralegal certificate program.
Paralegal students complete legal courses and usually complete an internship in a legal firm to obtain hands-on training. Paralegals may choose to specialize and work only in certain areas. Some paralegal specialties include:
- Family law
- Estate planning and probate
- Intellectual property
- Family law
- Debt and bankruptcy
- Real estate
- Freelance paralegal
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are about 150 bachelor’s degree paralegal programs in the U.S. It’s important that students choose programs that are approved by the American Bar Association.
Although paralegals are not required to obtain certification, it’s a way for the paralegal to demonstrate knowledge and commitment to the field. Certification may also be required by some employers.
Does a Paralegal Need a Bachelor’s Degree?
An individual does not always need to have a bachelor’s degree to work as paralegals. It all depends on where the paralegal works. Paralegals who work in corporate law, with government legal departments or major law firms are typically required to have bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies. Candidates who wish to teach paralegal students, work in intellectual property law or in some specialties of corporate law usually earn a master’s degree in paralegal studies. The most common path chosen is the associate degree program.
Career Outlook for Paralegals
Lawyers are using paralegals more and more as they try to be more efficient, cut costs and see more clients. Paralegals are predicted to see an employment growth of 15 percent during the decade of 2016-2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). There should be about 327,400 new paralegal jobs in the United States by 2026. As of a May 2017 wage report by the bureau, paralegals earned an average annual wage of $50,410 with wages ranging from $31,130 to $81,18ÿ. Factors like training, education, experience, certifications and geographic location can all play a role in determining wages for paralegals.
With so many paralegal programs offered today and the demand for paralegals so high, individuals can choose from almost whichever program comes closest to meeting their goals. Unless the individual wishes to work in a specific position requiring a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies, aspiring paralegals can begin their careers with lower degrees, gain some experience and advance to a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies if desired.