Paralegal courses prepare legal assistants to research information, organize case work, compile statistics, and help attorneys prepare for court proceedings. Whether obtaining a certificate or a degree in the field, aspiring paralegals should look for programs offered by accredited institutions that follow competency based, curriculum guidelines established by the American Bar Association (ABA). In addition, the ABA encourages paralegals to attain the highest level of academic achievement in the field possible as many employers and states now require more stringent standards for hiring within the profession.
Impact of Educational Options for a Paralegal Career
Becoming a paralegal opens multiple career pathways in areas of specialization such as criminal law, family law, immigration, corporate law, bankruptcy, personal injury, labor relations and real estate. Certificate holders can begin in supervised, entry-level positions in many employment settings, including banks, investment companies, real estate, insurance companies, law offices, and public agencies. For those holding associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degrees, the job outlook is better for higher paying jobs involving independent responsibilities. Upper level positions include such titles as paralegal managers, immigration specialists or legal support analysts.
Curriculum Topics for Paralegal Study
Paralegal courses cover a wide variety of foundational legal principles, including state and federal legislation that affects the practice of law. As students advance from certificate through graduate programs they will complete more in-depth study of:
- Introduction to paralegalism, the law and its application.
- Legal terminology and writing formats.
- Legal research.
- Investigation and discovery techniques.
- Trial preparations and litigation.
- Structure and intent of pleadings and motions.
- Torts and insurance.
- Civil and criminal law.
- Business and corporate law.
- Family law.
- Real estate.
- Estate planning and probate.
- Communication skills, written and oral.
- Legal ethics.
Certificate Program Foundations
Certificate courses provide legal specialty training at a basic level. Depending on the program, some prior college credits may be necessary for completing a certificate program. Coursework focuses on foundational information required for specialty areas of practice, usually focusing on standard law precepts, terminology, research, and data collection. Certificate programs are typically completed within a year.
Associate’s Degree Requirements
Associate degree programs expand upon the critical thinking skills necessary to complete paralegal work independently. Coursework involves general education and core curriculum classes designed to enhance the learner’s ability to apply competency-based skills and work as a generalist in the field. Students not only train in legal specialty areas but also analyze the trends, needs, and changes in law that impact the local legal community.
Bachelor’s and Master’s Curricula
At this level, intensive study in all curriculum areas with concentration in legal specialty areas is required. Programs span four years for a bachelor’s and an additional 18 to 24 months for a master’s. Students also complete supervised internships in legal settings to practice and enhance their application of paralegal concepts in real time. The managerial and administrative aspects of the career are also highlighted. Coursework may be taken through political science, criminal justice and human services departments, or through business programs with concentrations in paralegal or legal studies.
With the job outlook expected to rise faster than average for paralegals through 2022, the time has never been better to consider a career as a paralegal. By taking paralegal courses from an ABA-approved curriculum, paralegal degree holders will have many exciting career options from which to choose.