Once upon a time, paralegals (also known as legal assistants) didn’t exist. Lawyers were left to do all the work on a case on their own. However, as the legal profession developed, so did the need for paralegals. These legal professionals are critical to law offices, banks and the legal departments in other businesses and organizations.
As with other industries, like the medical field, which also employs paraprofessionals, what the paralegal majors in is often different than it would be for the attorney. However, legal training is critical for the paralegal to do his or her job.
Related resource: The 19 Cheapest ABA Approved Online Paralegal Programs
What Do Paralegals Do?
In order to understand what paralegals major in, it’s important to first understand what they do. A paralegal is a person who possesses legal skills and who works under the supervision of an attorney, according to NALA, The Paralegal Association.
These legal professionals must make it clear to clients that they are not attorneys and therefore, cannot represent them in court. That being said, they have many of the skills that an attorney does and are critical to the functioning of many law firms today.
They may take on such tasks as:
- Client interviews
- Legal research
- Create deposition summaries
- Do investigations and research
- Other related legal work
Law firms bill for the legal assistant’s time in the same way that they do for an attorney’s time: That is, they bill for the paralegal’s time hourly (at the legal assistant’s hourly rate, which is typically less than an attorney’s).
In light of this, an educational program for paralegals includes classes that introduce would-be paralegals to the workings of the law.
What Types of Classes Do Paralegals Take?
It might be easy to dismiss what a paralegal does, given the fact that this person isn’t legally able to represent someone in court. However, this belief is erroneous. The paralegal’s skills are such that if the paralegal did not work in the office, an attorney would be the person doing the paralegal’s work.
As Idaho State University points out, paralegals take coursework in:
- Contract law
- Legal research and writing
- Criminal law and procedure
- Civil litigation
- Legal ethics
- Specialty courses in family law, estates, wills and trusts, and bankruptcy
Additionally, coursework could include training in managing a law office, legal analysis, and other related subjects. Many paralegals also get practical experience by doing internships.
Most formal school programs that offer legal assistant training do not offer a full bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). Instead, a person who pursues paralegal studies often gets an associate’s degree in paralegal studies or a certificate.
That being said, some employers do require their paralegals to have a bachelor’s degree. In cases such as these, the would-be paralegal majors in something else and gets a minor or a certificate in paralegal studies.
What the paralegal majors in is entirely up to him or her. If this person knows what branch of the law he or she would like to pursue as a paralegal, it might be wise to study that. For example, a future paralegal who wants to work in art law may want to major in art history.
Law firms and business legal departments rely on paralegals to do much of the work that an attorney once did. The skills of these legal professionals are the same as an attorney’s in many respects, though this person isn’t a fully licensed attorney.
As such, they must work under the supervision of an attorney and be mindful of the legal ethics involved in their work. The paralegal profession is a good option for someone who wants to work in the legal industry, but who doesn’t want to go to law school. As for what they major in, paralegals major in the subject of their choice and augment their education by pursuing a minor or a certificate program in paralegal studies.