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Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies

There will be many career opportunities for paralegals in the near and foreseeable future. Paralegals conduct legal research, develop courtroom strategies, maintain legal records, and help attorneys prepare legal documents and briefs. The first step toward launching a career as a paralegal or legal assistant is to complete a paralegal associate's degree program.

Becoming a paralegal by completing an acreditted two-year associate degree program in paralegal studies is a great option for people who want to work in the legal industry but don't want to attend law school. During an associate's program in paralegal studies, students learn about all the legal and courtroom protocols. Students are also trained in the specifics of legal documents, such as contracts and wills.

The BLS reports that 70% of paralegals are employed by law firms, while the remainder work for businesses or government agencies. Wages for paralegals vary, depending on the type of organization they work for. Those working for government departments or big firms make more than those working for smaller companies. In 2014, most paralegals enjoyed annual salaries near $40,000. Paralegals with specific expertise in a legal field usually make more money.

Education Requirements for Becoming a Paralegal
While formal training is necessary to become a paralegal, there are no universal education requirements. Consequently, there are several educational paths you can take to become a paralegal. These include earning a degree or a qualifying certificate in paralegal studies. Paralegal training and education programs in the United States are approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). However, only about 20-30% of all paralegal programs actually are ABA-approved. Many fully online paralegal certificate and degree programs are not ABA-approved since the ABA requires that a minimum of ten semester hours be completed in a traditional classroom environment.

Paralegal degrees are offered at both the associate and bachelor's levels. Degrees usually include general education courses in math, science, English, and history, as well as structured coursework and electives in paralegal studies. Earning a two-year associate degree in paralegal studies is sufficient to become a paralegal and qualify for many entry-level career positions with law firms and the court system. Earning a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies can be advantageous for certain jobs and leaves the door open to potentially pursue a law degree down the road.

Earning a certificate in paralegal studies is by far the quickest route to becoming a paralegal or legal assistant. Some paralegal certificates can be earned in as little as 7 months. Most paralegal certificate programs are intended and designed for students who already have a college degree, but in a field other than law or paralegal studies. Paralegal certificate programs typically do not have any general education components and focus specifically on coursework and knowledge pertinent to a career as a paralegal. Course you might expect to find in a paralegal certificate program include legal research, law and ethics, family law, business law, legal writing, personal injury and intellectual property law, among others.

Currently, paralegals can practice without being certified. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers paralegal certification but it is not mandatory, although some employers might require it. Aspiring paralegal professionals can also seek certification through the American Alliance of Paralegals. Becoming certified is a great way to set yourself appart from other job seekers.

Earning an associate degree in paralegal studies is still the most popular path to becoming a paralegal or legal assistant. It is affordable, quick and provides enough skill and credibility to qualify for most entry-level positions.

Featured Associate Degrees in Paralegal Studies and Legal Assisting
The selection below includes some of the some of the most paralegal associate degree programs offered online and on campus by accredited colleges and higher education institutions. To learn more about a school or the paralegal studies program it offers simply click on the "Request Info" button to right to request more information about the program.

Career Information
Students with an associate degree in paralegal studies can find career opportunities with financial institutions (banks, insurance companies, etc.), law firms, real estate companies, private corporations and within the federal and state court systems. Some paralegals even find employment working as freelance contract workers. More and more, paralegals are assuming the responsibilities and work load traditionally reserved for licensed attorneys. However, paralegals still are not allowed to represent clients in the court room, provide legal advice, or charge clients legal fees for their services. Paralegals typically work under the supervision and in partnership with a licensed lawyer or firm.

According to a recent report issued by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), projected growth in employment of paralegals and legal assistants wil be over 17% through 2022–much faster than the average for all other occupations in the United States. It expected that most growth in employment of paralegals with take place in the fields of insurance, health care, finance and consulting. Demand for paralegals in corporate American will also contribute to employment growth.

Paralegals, on average, can expect to make just over $51,000 a year, or about $24 an hour. How much a paralegal can earn depends on education level, experience, location and employer.

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