Online Bachelor's Degree in Paralegal Studies

The legal field offers exciting and rewarding career paths, but students may be discouraged by the number of years required to become a lawyer. These individuals may choose to become paralegals, who work alongside attorneys and interact with clients. You can become a paralegal in only a few years, especially when you earn a paralegal bachelor's degree online.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 15% increase in paralegal jobs by 2026, much faster than the national average for all occupations.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 15% increase in paralegal jobs by 2026, much faster than the national average for all occupations. Many firms are streamlining operations, controlling costs, and improving efficiency by turning over additional responsibilities to paralegals. Washington offers a legal technician license, which allows paralegals with specific training and credentials to independently assist clients in matters involving divorce or child custody. Others states may offer similar licensing as the cost of legal fees rises and many low- and moderate-income citizens struggle to access legal services.

Paralegals work in a variety of industries, such as healthcare, government, finance, and insurance. Employers need paralegals who can research complex questions, communicate answers clearly and concisely, and meet crucial deadlines.

A paralegal degree prepare students to investigate cases, interview witnesses, conduct legal research, write legal briefs, and assist attorneys in the courtroom by taking notes and filing evidence. Aspiring paralegals can enter the field by earning an associate degree or a bachelor's degree or by completing a certification course. A bachelor's program provides a foundation in political science, constitutional law, and criminal justice, and students complete core academic courses. Students develop strong writing skills and learn to utilize technology, such as legal databases. Some programs require an internship or capstone project, while others require a national certification exam.

Factors including location and the type of school significantly impact the cost of an undergraduate degree. Private colleges often charge higher tuition rates that public colleges, and many schools offer lower tuition rates to in-state students. Many students earn their paralegal bachelor's degree online, especially if nearby colleges do not offer the degree. Online paralegal degrees provide flexible scheduling options and are ideal for students with professional or personal commitments. However, the American Bar Association only approves on-campus programs, not online paralegal degrees.

Online Bachelor's in Paralegal Studies Concentrations

Sample Courses for a Bachelor's Degree in Paralegal Studies

Many cases require knowledge of multiple areas of law, so learners should study several areas while earning their degree. Most programs offer a variety of legal courses in topics such as constitutional law and jurisprudence, civil torts, family law, and real estate law.

Example Courses

Constitutional Government Learners study the U.S. Constitution and cases that set legal precedents for its interpretation. Topics include the structure of the federal government, including the federal court system, and individual rights.
Foundations of Law While the U.S. Constitution forms the basis of the legal system, the document tasks Congress and the individual states with creating laws to serve the public welfare. This course covers the creation and enforcement of laws. Students examine historical models for many laws governing society today.
Criminal Practice and Procedure The U.S. Constitution protects the rights of individuals accused of crimes. Students explore the criminal procedure, from the initial investigation through the first court appearance and subsequent trial.
Legal Research and Writing Students examine primary and secondary sources used to find legal precedents and learn how to search a legal library and utilize online legal databases, such as Westlaw. Students also learn the proper format for legal filings and briefs.
Torts and Civil Litigation This course covers the concepts of strict liability, negligence, and product liability. Learners also study the civil trial process, including jury selection, evidence filing, and determining damages.

How Much Does It Cost to Get a Bachelor's Degree in Paralegal Studies?

Many colleges offer paralegal bachelor's degrees online or on campus, and the cost of the degree can vary significantly by school. Factors including the location and the type of college can impact tuition costs. For example, private, for-profit colleges typically charge more than nonprofit schools, and public colleges and universities generally charge the least. According to the College Board, the average annual tuition rate at public, four-year colleges was $9,970 in 2017, while private, nonprofit universities charged an average of $34,740 per year.

According to the College Board, the average annual tuition rate at public, four-year colleges was $9,970 in 2017, while private, nonprofit universities charged an average of $34,740 per year.

Students can complete paralegal degree programs online full time or part time. Part-time students often pay a per-credit tuition rate. Some schools accept transfer credits, which can reduce the number of classes needed and the total cost of the degree. Along with tuition, students are responsible for textbooks and fees. Students earning an online paralegal degree may also need to pay for software licensing and subscriptions to legal databases. Programs that require an internship may charge a fee for supervising or evaluating each student's work.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Bachelor's in Paralegal Studies?

Most students completing bachelor's-level paralegal degree programs online must earn at least 120 credits, including general education courses. Full-time students typically require about four years to graduate. Some schools offer accelerated formats that allow students to focus on one or two classes for six to ten weeks; learners in accelerated programs complete more credits per year than those following traditional semester or quarter schedules.

Students in cohort programs progress through coursework with a small group of peers. Cohorts help learners build strong relationships and support systems, but they may take longer to complete because of their rigid structures. Some schools use a competency-based approach, which allows students to pay a set fee and move from class to class as they demonstrate mastery of course objectives.

Though state laws prohibit paralegals from giving legal advice or representing clients in legal proceedings, paralegals complete many tasks once reserved for entry-level attorneys, such as legal research. Paralegals typically complete this work at a lower cost than an attorney's hourly rate. Efficiency and cost reduction fuels the surge in paralegal employment, which the BLS projects will increase 15% through 2026. As information moves to digital formats, candidates who combine their legal expertise with digital research skills often have the best job prospects.

States With the Highest Employment of Paralegals
State/District Employment
California 30,790
Florida 27,460
New York 24,240
Texas 22,730
Illinois 12,070
Source: BLS, May 2017

What Does a Paralegal Do?

According to the BLS, the legal industry employs about 73% of paralegals, but professionals with an online paralegal degree also work in government agencies, financial and insurance corporations, and healthcare facilities. Most paralegals work in office settings, often as part of a team of attorneys, paralegals, and administrative assistants. Paralegals may travel occasionally to assist with trials, investigate the facts of cases, or collect or file documents. Most paralegals work full-time schedules, though the work may be fast-paced and require overtime to meet critical court deadlines.

With the growth of online legal databases and digital discovery, employers need paralegals with technology skills. Many online paralegal degrees provide technology training, while also developing students communication and problem-solving skills. While an online paralegal associate degree provides a foundation in the field, a bachelor's degree allows for a higher level of specialization and typically results in increased earning potential.

Top-paying States and Districts for Paralegals
State/District Annual Mean Wage
District of Columbia $78,350
Alaska $62,860
New Jersey $61,650
Washington $60,280
Connecticut $60,150
Source: BLS, May 2017

Licensure and Certification

Few states require paralegals to hold a license, since they work under the supervision of an attorney. Many employers, however, seek candidates with professional certifications that demonstrate legal knowledge and a commitment to professional ethics. The National Association of Legal Assistants offers the Certified Paralegal credential, which numerous bar associations recognize as a mark of professional achievement. Applicants must complete a paralegal training program to be eligible to sit for the exam. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations offers the Paralegal CORE Competency Exam and the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam. Both organizations require continuing education to maintain certification.

Students should ensure any prospective school holds either national or regional accreditation. Accreditation verifies the quality of a school's curricula and support services. By attending an accredited school, students ensure their credits will transfer to other institutions and that their degree will qualify them for graduate school. Regional accreditation is the oldest and most widely recognized type of accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education provides a database of accredited schools and programs.

While regional and national accreditation apply to all of an institution's offerings, the American Bar Association (ABA) recognizes programs in the legal field, including paralegal programs.

While regional and national accreditation apply to all of an institution's offerings, the American Bar Association (ABA) recognizes programs in the legal field, including paralegal programs. About 22% of paralegal programs are ABA-approved. Online paralegal degrees do not meet the ABA requirements for hands-on learning, so the association only recognizes on-campus and hybrid programs. For students pursuing an online paralegal degree, ABA-approved programs do not exist. Students should consider their career goals when determining whether ABA accreditation is a deciding factor. Although some certifications may require the ABA accreditation, other programs emphasize core legal knowledge.

Students pursuing a paralegal bachelor's degree online or on campus can apply for financial assistance including federal aid, institutional grants, scholarships, and low-interest student loans. Students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible; the application window opens in October of each year. The government uses the information submitted on the FAFSA to determine individual financial needs. Submitting the FAFSA qualifies students for grants, which do not have to be repaid, and loans, which typically have lower interest rates than private student loans. Additionally, many schools use the information on the FAFSA when awarding need-based scholarships.

The federal government may forgive some loans for graduates who pursue careers in public service, and individual states may offer student tuition assistance. Students should also research scholarship opportunities through employers and organizations. Some scholarships are reserved for students with financial need, a record of community service, or high academic potential. Others support students who are part of a minority or marginalized population. Many local organizations offer scholarships for individuals pursuing careers in the legal field.

Paralegal Studies Scholarships

Students pursuing a paralegal bachelor's degree online can apply for scholarships to pay fees and tuition. These awards often reward academic promise or encourage specific populations to enter the profession. Scholarships are an ideal source of funding because they do not need to be repaid. Research scholarship opportunities to ensure you meet all requirements and deadlines.

Paralegal Studies Scholarships

Lambda Epsilon Chi Scholarship $500

Who Can Apply: The honor society of the American Association for Paralegal Education awards five scholarships each year. Applicants must be members of their school's AAfPE chapter and must submit an essay. View Scholarship

Orange County Paralegal Association Student Scholarship Varies

Who Can Apply: Administrators at five colleges in Southern California award funds to deserving students. Recipients may use funds for educational expenses, seminars, meetings, or certification fees. View Scholarship

Nancy McLaughlin Scholarship $250

Who Can Apply: The Capital Area Paralegal Association awards two scholarships each year to members in good standing. Applicants must submit an essay. Camille Stell Scholarship: $500; This award is open to students pursuing a paralegal degree from a college in Wake County, North Carolina. View Scholarship

Warner Norcross & Judd LLP Paralegal or Secretarial Scholarship $2,000

Who Can Apply: The Grand Rapids Community Foundation awards the scholarship to students of color attending an accredited Michigan college, with an emphasis on financial need. Applicants must submit a resume, an essay, transcripts, and two letters of reference. View Scholarship
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