Are you hooked on watching old episodes of TV’s Law & Order? Chances are you have noticed the savvy legal assistants, or paralegals, who help the lawyers assemble all the facts related to their cases. Becoming a paralegal can offer you a challenging and interesting career with opportunities for growth and advancement.
Paralegals conduct research on relevant laws, legal articles, and regulations and then write a report which helps a lawyer to prepare a solid court case. The work varies according to the legal practice: Some paralegals help prepare mortgages or other financial documents, while others investigate, collect, and organize evidence for court hearings.
The paralegal profession can be traced to the 1960s, when assistants were trained to help attorneys during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” Since then, the career has expanded as public agencies, private law firms, and corporations have recognized the benefits of employing paralegals to increase the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of their services.
Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there were about 256, 000 paralegal and legal assistant jobs in the Unites States in 2010, and it predicts an 18% growth for the career through 2020.
The average paralegal’s 2010 salary was , 680 per year, or .44 per hour.
The typical workload of a paralegal can be varied and interesting. In larger firms, paralegals may specialize by working on the same particular phase of a variety of cases, while a paralegal at a smaller firm may work on the same case from beginning to end.
Either way, a paralegal’s responsibilities usually include:
- investigating the facts of a case
- conducting research on relevant laws and regulations
- organizing and presenting that information
- storing information in computer databases
Some paralegals specialize in areas such as litigation, personal injury, corporate law, criminal law, employee benefits, intellectual property, bankruptcy, immigration, family law, and real estate.
As you grow in your career, your salary can grow in step, as you take on other responsibilities such as supervising team projects.
More than 1, 000 colleges and universities offer paralegal training programs; however, only about 270 of those programs are approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). ABA approved programs offer courses in legal research, laws and ethics, legal writing, family law, business law, intellectual property and personal injury.
An associate’s or bachelor’s degree program includes core studies in English, science, math, and social sciences, along with other courses required for paralegal work.
So, how can you become qualified for this interesting and lucrative profession?
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It is easier than you may think. We have done some of the homework for you by listing here the 10 Best Online Paralegal Associate’s Degree Programs.
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1. Eastern Kentucky University
Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) offers a unique combination of online and on-campus coursework for its paralegal program.
Students must complete a minimum of 10 semester credit hours in the traditional classroom format and then may complete the rest of the program online.
All full-time paralegal faculty members hold a Juris Doctor (J.D.) or Ph.D., and part-time faculty members include practicing attorneys, judges, and elected officials.
The EKU paralegal program is a charter member of the American Association for Paralegal Education. EKU’s paralegal program graduates are successfully employed at many of the top legal employers throughout the region.
Ranked #55 in U.S. News & World Report’s latest round-up of best regional (South) universities, Eastern Kentucky University is a public institution that was founded in 1906. Its 2013–2014 undergraduate enrollment is 13, 947, and its campus size is 675 acres.
Current in-state tuition and fees are , 536 and current out-of-state tuition and fees are $16, 608.
2. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
(Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, IN)
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) offers both a bachelor’s and an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. In addition, the college has a post-baccalaureate paralegal studies certificate program that is designed for students already holding a bachelor’s degree in another field. Flexible distance options, called Woods Online, are also available.
All the paralegal education programs at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College are ABA approved.
The associate’s degree in paralegal studies requires students to complete 39 credit hours of subject-specific coursework, in addition to the general studies requirements. Of those hours, 10 must be taken in the traditional classroom format, while the rest are online.
As a part of liberal arts education, the college’s paralegal program explores law within society, by encouraging students to examine political influences, historical patterns, and economic relations and the moral, philosophical, and ethical foundations and implications of law.