Despite an associate degree being sufficient to work as a paralegal, an individual interested in this career can choose to earn a higher degree. Many aspiring paralegals wonder what the highest degree is that they can earn in the paralegal field. There are various degrees one can earn to become a paralegal from an associate degree right to a graduate degree. Here is an overview of the paralegal field.
What is a Paralegal?
A paralegal is a trained professional who assists lawyers in their work. The majority of paralegals work in law firms, although some businesses hire paralegals to work in their legal department. Paralegals perform much of the work formerly done by the attorneys. Paralegal duties include filing appeals, briefs, and legal documents with the court; obtaining affidavits and formal statements for evidence in court; organizing and maintaining legal documents, conducting research on laws and regulations; investigating and gathering facts for cases; drafting legal documents and correspondence; scheduling appointments; summarizing and writing reports for trials, and assisting lawyers in the courtroom.
What is the Highest Degree in the Paralegal Field?
To become a paralegal, an individual must have at least an associate’s degree in legal studies from a program approved by the American Bar Association. Candidates with a bachelor’s degree in another field may become a paralegal by completing a certificate in legal studies. Master’s degrees are generally the highest degree in the paralegal field.
Individuals who complete master degrees often pursue careers as paralegal managers or teachers. The master’s degree programs are often offered as online programs. According to O*Net Online, 50% of paralegals have associate’s degrees, 34% have a bachelor’s degree and 7% have post-secondary certificates. They do not list a number for paralegals who have master’s degrees.
Curriculum for Paralegals
Students in a paralegal program will take a variety of legal courses, including family law, U.S. legal systems, estate law, legal ethics, contracts, torts and wills, paralegal research and organizational law. The legal courses in the associate’s degree program are similar to those in the bachelor’s degree program. The bachelor’s degree program generally includes some general education courses as well. During the final semester of the program, the student must complete an internship working in a law or legal firm. Although it’s not required, many paralegals choose to obtain certification.
Career Outlook for Paralegals
Lawyers are depending on paralegals to perform as many of their duties as they can so that the lawyers can keep costs down and see more clients. This is one main reason why paralegals are very much in demand. Paralegals and legal assistants should see an employment growth of 15% during the 2016-2026 decade as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of May 2017, paralegals earned an average annual wage of $53,910. The highest-paying states for paralegals are District of Columbia, Alaska, New Jersey, Washington, and Connecticut.
Working as a paralegal can give an individual the opportunity to not just work in the legal field but also to do work that helps others. With so many degree levels in the paralegal field, aspiring paralegals can earn the degree that best fits their lifestyle. Earning a degree in paralegal studies can also be a foundation for law school, especially for those earning the highest degree in the paralegal field.