For those in the paralegal profession, earning a master’s degree in paralegal studies may be a worthwhile endeavor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects this competitive job market to grow by 17 percent through 2022 based partly on how law firms are choosing to expand the scope of job responsibilities for legal support staff. Paralegals may be required to take on more administrative responsibilities than in the past and expected to perform at higher levels when drafting court documents, conducting legal research and assisting legal teams during court proceedings. While paralegals can be hired with associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, obtaining advanced paralegal education may be worth the effort for those seeking greater employment opportunities.
Is a Master’s Degree in Paralegal Studies Worthwhile
In 2006, an article by Rod Hughes took a look at the relevance of advanced paralegal studies. At that time, graduate programs in the field were just beginning to emerge and the need for them was unclear since the majority of paralegals were successfully completing job responsibilities with associate’s or bachelor’s degrees. This also meant that potential job candidates with a master’s might have to initially settle for jobs at the same pay level as offered to those with lesser degrees. However, interviews with individuals who did complete advanced paralegal studies cited the following reasons for doing so:
- Gaining hiring advantages in a competitive employment market
- Creating broader career advancement opportunities
- Using a master’s as a stepping stone to law school
- Being able to specialize in particular legal areas of interest
- Eventually boosting earning potential
Expectations for Earning Advanced Paralegal Degrees
Holding a master’s in paralegal studies is not as unusual today as a decade ago. Studies can be concentrated to suit the needs of a job or career interest in areas such as health care, litigation, business, estate management, administration, intellectual property, criminal law, technology, immigration and many more. In addition to covering current legal theories and trending practices, degrees at the master’s level also target the increased use of technology, computer software programs and business administration skills required to complete job tasks in modern law offices. A master’s in paralegal studies typically involves 36 credit hours of coursework including an internship experience. Program completion varies between 18 to 24 months depending on part-time or full-time enrollment.
When Choosing a Master’s Program in Paralegal Studies
Accreditation for paralegal degrees is generally voluntary on the part of higher educational institutions. Prospective students can check school websites to see if they adhere to core curriculum guidelines recommended by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc., and the National Association of Legal Assistants. Additionally, many schools seek voluntary approval for their paralegal curricula from the American Bar Association which has a program to approve legal assistant training programs meeting their curriculum recommendations.
Deciding if the effort to obtain an advanced paralegal degree is worthwhile ultimately depends on an individual’s career goals and willingness to invest time into further studies. For paralegals who do take on the challenge, earning a master’s degree allows them to focus their careers in areas of interest while opening doors to greater job opportunities, career advancements and increased earning potentials.