Some people love the limelight. Others prefer to stay backstage. As a paralegal student, you've chosen to make your impact behind the scenes: collecting the data, comparing the cases, and picking through legislation with a fine tooth comb. The documents you create and the case profiles you establish are essential pieces of our nation's legal system. Whether you choose to specialize or diversify your role in the legal process, this guide will help you navigate the path to obtaining your degree.
- The Paralegal profession developed during the 1960's, but the terms “paralegal” and “legal assistant” were only officially adopted and defined by the American Bar Association in 1986.
- The first paralegals were legal secretaries trained by the lawyers who employed them in order to increase the availability of legal services.
- A legal assistant can expect to earn from $30,000 to $80,000 in annual salary.
- California, New York, and Florida have the highest concentrations of legal assistants in the United States.
- Employment opportunities for paralegals are expected to increase 28 percent by 2018.
Cost: $800 to $5,000
Paralegal certificate programs are generally targeted at those who already possess a college degree or prior experience in the legal industry. These programs focus heavily on litigation, research, writing, ethics, and legal documentation, and prepare students to function in a highly proprietary environment. More inclusive certificate programs also offer specializations in tax law, property, bankruptcy, and immigration, among many others.
Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies
Cost: $11,000 to $35,000
Most AAS Paralegal Studies programs require courses in civil litigation, legal research, legal analysis and writing, and ethics. These courses are supplemented by requirements determined by the student's specialization. In some AAS programs, the curriculum is concluded or supplemented by an externship in order to provide hands-on job experience in the legal field.
Bachelor's in Paralegal Studies
Cost: $25,000 to $70,000
Bachelor programs in Paralegal Studies offer the most complete education for those with no prior experience in the legal industry. The curriculum usually focuses on either business or legal applications. The primary advantage of a bachelor's degree program over the associate's and certificate programs is the focus on the actual execution of the skills rather than a simple understanding of the ideas and principles. While some of these programs do provide opportunities for internships and externships, the majority of the practical application is worked into the curriculum itself.
If you are interested in earning a Paralegal Certificate from a top-notch school, then we've got the list for you. The following 10 schools all offer certificate programs for wannabe paralegals, and they all ranked among the top 50 national universities in U.S. News & World Report's Best Colleges 2010. If you're looking for a quality education, check out these schools first:
Rank: No. 10
Cost: $6,000 to $7,000
Length: 6 weeks to 5 months
Offered both on the Duke University campus and as an online course, this continuing education program is available to students who have already earned an associate's or bachelor's degree. Certified by the North Carolina State Bar, Duke's program focuses on legal ethics, practices, documents, and procedures for use in court and judicial settings rather than commercial applications. It also offers a hands-on practical approach to the profession.
Rank: No. 17
Length: 8 weeks to 6 months
Offering a mixed curriculum of online and offline courses, Emory prepares paralegal students to function in a variety of research, writing, and client-oriented legal situations. This program offers practical experience dealing with paperwork, legal language, and arbitration alongside a multitude of other specializations in order to fully prepare graduates to work within and outside the state of Georgia. At the end of the program, the student will leave with a case file to present as an example of his or her practical skills.
Rank: No. 17
Cost: $4,800 to $4,900
Length: 6 months
Rice University offers a comprehensive program full of hands-on legal education. Teaching the necessary vocabulary, documentation, research techniques, and case organization techniques, this curriculum is designed to prepare post-graduate students for entry into the paralegal world. In addition, the program is headed by Daniel R. Barber and Alyssa Navallo, both renowned for their program development and contributions to other university paralegal programs as well as their textual contributions to their profession.
University of California – Berkeley
Rank: No. 21
Cost: $6,300 to $7,000
Length: 6 months to 2 years
UC Berkeley's program offers a basic overview of paralegal practices combined with a razor sharp focus of legal topics to prepare students for the specialization of their choice. By offering business, contract, criminal, and other electives, Berkley students can specialize in either judicial or business law while learning from practicing attorneys. Courses are offered in hybrid and online distance learning formats.
Rank: No. 23
Length: 3 to 4 months
Developed as an intense and inclusive curriculum of Paralegal Studies, this program has the honor of being approved by the American Bar Association. Located in the nation's capital city, Georgetown offers a unique opportunity to work with and around prominent legal and legislative figures while simultaneously educating students in a fine-tuned program about paralegal basics and judicial processes.
University of California – Los Angeles
Rank: No. 24
Length: 5 to 12 months
This program is great for students who already possess an associate's or bachelor's degree and who are seeking to develop their skills in a new career. Focusing on litigation, this program offers an ABA-approved certificate contingent on the prerequisites obtained in previous degrees.
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
Rank: No. 28
Length: 5 months
UNC boasts an energetic and knowledgeable faculty dedicated to bringing theory and practice into a tightly joined focus of study. The paralegal program provides an intense study in contracts, criminal law, real estate, and torts, while providing additional surveys in customer and family legislation.
New York University
Rank: No. 32
Length: 3 to 6 months
NYU offers an ABA-approved curriculum in a densely populated legal environment. The program provides a full spectrum approach with an emphasis on ethics and the concepts most pertinent to the local and federal judiciary system.
University of California – Davis
Rank: No. 42
Length: 5 months
UC Davis offers a compact paralegal program that delves into the overarching ideals of the paralegal profession while offering a chance to specialize in judicial or corporate litigation. In addition to offering both on campus and online curriculum choices, both programs offer paralegal reference materials in analog and digital form.
University of Washington
Rank: No. 42
Length: 9 months
The University of Washington offers a broad program meant to prepare prospective paralegals for the advancement of their careers through a wide understanding of the legal system and litigation support. Both classroom and online courses are available.