Top Online Legal and Paralegal Schools
The paralegal is the workhorse behind any law firm. As the lawyers of the firm bound from client to meeting to client, the paralegal drafts the affidavits and formal statements used in court proceedings, compiles information on the laws pertaining to a lawyer’s current case and investigates the facts behind the case. Traditionally, law firms have hired junior lawyers to conduct research and help lawyers during trial. However, as the salaries for even junior level lawyers have gone up, firms have begun hiring paralegals to fill the role.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook (BLS.gov, 2012), the profession is expected to grow by 18 percent from 2010 to 2020 as a result of the high cost of hiring junior lawyers to perform the same tasks. In addition, many states have allowed paralegals to assist trial lawyers during the proceedings, removing another incentive for hiring junior lawyers.
The education requirements for a paralegal are another cause for the profession’s growth, as almost half the paralegals (O*NET.org, 2012) employed in the U.S. responded that an associate degree or paralegal certificate rather than a post-secondary degree from a law school was enough for employment. Because of this, entry into the profession of legal assisting is noticeably easier than lawyers. Legal and paralegal training can teach you to perform pre-trial research, gather evidence and documentation, draft pleadings and motions to be presented in court, interview witnesses, and much more. Paralegal classes can be taken at almost every educational institution, from universities down to community colleges and even online schools and universities.
Online paralegal programs, degrees and certifications are widely available. Distance learning may provide a flexible and convenient way to earn a paralegal degree or become a certified legal assistant.
Legal schools are not law schools and an education for employment as a paralegal or legal assistant does not constitute or replace a traditional law school education. Additionally, no online law schools is approved by the ABA, and as such, no degree from any online law school will be valid for passing the bar exam. Currently, the only state where a law degree from an online law school will not be a hindrance to passing the exam is the state of California where a law degree is not a requirement for passing the bar.
Below is more about the paralegal focus available from online schools and colleges through SchoolsGalore.com:
Law firms and practicing attorneys rely on paralegals and legal assistants in the office and in the courtroom. The job description of a legal assistant may require a paralegal to: transcribe interviews and collect research data, both on the case at hand and on similar cases which may be relevant, write reports to summarize information before a trial, acquire affidavits and other formal statements for evidence and to provide lawyers with information while the trial is happening.
According to O*NET Online, as recently as 2010, 44 percent of paralegals reported that a bachelor’s degree was required for employment and some firms do not require the degree to be in paralegal studies. The BLS (BLS.gov, 2012), states that firms may train paralegals while on-the-job. Paralegal classes provide comprehensive legal and paralegal education, the work habits required of paralegals and the technical skills to perform legal tasks. Classes may focus on oral communication, research and critical thinking, writing and interpersonal skills. Many of these classes can be completed online or though distance learning. Check with your school for more details about distance learning opportunities.
For students with legal experience, training is available to prepare you for the Certified Legal Assistant (CAL) and Certified Paralegal (CP) examinations. There is also voluntary certification from the National Association of Legal Assistants (NULA), American Alliance of Paralegals (AGAPE) and from the National Federation of Paralegals (NAPA). The level of education, skill and commitment to continued legal education required for voluntary certification is extensive, and should only be attempted by paralegals who want to distinguish themselves in their profession.
According to Carolyn M. Saenz and Deborah M. McKinney, associate members of the Cincinnati Bar Association, certification from an American Bar Association-approved program is required to be considered the “genuine product” in the world of paralegals. Certification shows that you are experienced with the practice of law and have the education to enter the paralegal profession. This can be invaluable for recent graduates as some short-term paralegal programs have been called a “fundamental disservice” to paralegal students by the American Association for Paralegal Education and do not adequately prepare students for work as a paralegal.
Like all legal professions, paralegals can specialize in a particular type of law. Specializations include: litigation, personal injury, immigration, corporate law, criminal law, and various other financial and government focuses. According to the BLS (BLS.gov, 2012) the national median salary for paralegals and legal assistants was $46,730 per year in May, 2011. Expected employment growth of up to 18 percent (BLS.gov, 2012) is a result of expanding lawyer salaries and the increasing number of corporations with in-house legal departments rather than contracted outside-council increasing the demand for paralegals.
If you have no previous work or education experience as a paralegal, you may want to begin with an associate degree in paralegal studies before taking a paralegal certification exam. Many paralegal programs require students to complete an internship in a law firm prior to graduation.
Learn more about accredited paralegal programs from online schools and colleges through SchoolsGalore.com:
The AAfPE, the only national organization for paralegal educators, has stated that short-term paralegal programs “cannot adequately present all of the content required of a quality paralegal education.” The AAfPE recommends courses meet 18 semester credit hours of paralegal course work and students complete 60 credit hours of general study prior to completion. These courses should also be offered by member schools of the AAfPE or ABA.
Please be sure to check that your schools of interest have all been accredited by professional accrediting organizations that are approved by The U.S. Department of Education or The Council for Higher Education Accreditation, or both. Make sure to verify the program is accredited or is approved by the ABA. The AAfPE also provides a searchable member schools directory.
Accredited Online Schools for Paralegal Studies
The following schools are some of the online schools that have been approved by the American Association for Paralegal Education and the American Bar Association, and are approved by industry leaders, to provide paralegal courses and degree programs online or through distance learning.
They have also been ranked using data by the National Center for Education Statistics according to their low student-teacher ratios and total enrollment size. This ranking may provide both smaller class sizes and a potential increase in faculty access.
1. Herzing University-Atlanta
2. Heald College-Rancho Cordova
3. Heald College-Concord
4. Heald College-Fresno
5. Heald College-San Jose
6. Everest College-Phoenix
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