Everything You Need to Know About Paralegal Education
You have an endless fascination with the legal world—but you don’t have the time or money to pursue a law degree. A paralegal career, however, seems well within reach. This could be your perfect opportunity to work in the legal field without potentially spending the better part of a decade earning an advanced degree.
Even though paralegals don’t need the same level of rigorous schooling like attorneys do, they do still require specialized training. We’re breaking down the ins and outs of paralegal education with help from Julia Gordon, instructor and paralegal externship coordinator for the Rasmussen College School of Justice Studies.
Take a look at these details of paralegal training so you can determine if this legal career path is right for you!
Two paralegal training paths to consider
There’s more than one way to become a paralegal. At Rasmussen College, students can choose between earning a post-Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree Paralegal Certificate or a Paralegal Associate’s degree. Students will need to consider several factors when deciding which route is best for them, including career goals and the amount of education they’ve already completed.
These detailed descriptions will help you determine which type of paralegal training is the best fit for your specific situation.
Option 1: Paralegal Associate’s degree
While there’s no legally-mandated requirements for paralegal education, you’re likely to find requirements beyond a high school diploma. Most employers require paralegals to hold an associate’s degree or higher, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1
The Paralegal Associate’s degree program at Rasmussen College is designed to give students a solid understanding of the legal field, as well as provide a well-rounded education that develops their communication and critical thinking skills. Unlike a lengthy law degree, paralegal associate’s degrees can be earned relatively quickly, with students finishing the Rasmussen College program in as few as 18 months.2
Option 2: Paralegal Certificate
Certificate programs provide “intensive paralegal training for people who already hold college degrees,” even if their degree is unrelated to the legal field, according to the (BLS).1 These programs offer a relatively quick way for degree-holders to transition into a paralegal career—the Rasmussen College Paralegal Certificate program can be completed in as few as eight months.2
Which paralegal education option is right for you?
The deciding factor in which of these paralegal programs is right for you will most likely be whether or not you already hold a degree.
“Students that already have a degree but want to seek a career as a paralegal would be good candidates for the Certificate program,” Gordon says. The Paralegal Associate’s degree is ideal for students who don’t already have a degree or have very limited college credit.
However, it’s always a good idea to check with real employers before choosing which program to enroll in. “Before choosing which program to attend, a student should contact law offices in the area he or she lives and ask questions as to what education most firms are looking for,” Gordon says.
Paralegal courses to expect
You might think the courses you’ll take will vary depending on the program you choose, but there are quite a few similarities. Both of these paralegal education programs include the courses you need to develop a full understanding of the legal field.
“Both the Certificate program and the Associate’s program will help students learn legal research and analysis, legal writing, legal ethics, communication skills and law office management,” Gordon says.
These are just a few courses that aspiring paralegals in both programs experience at Rasmussen College:
- Family Law
- Legal Ethics
- Civil Litigation
- Criminal Law and Procedure
- Introduction to Legal Research
- Legal Writing
Paralegals will emerge from both education tracks with a similar set of skills that allows them to work in the legal field. According to O*NET and the BLS, these are just some of the skills paralegals will use on a regular basis:1
- Specialized database software
- Complex problem solving
- Critical thinking
- Reading comprehension
- Reviewing and understanding court documents
Not to be confused with the Paralegal Certificate program, paralegal certification is an optional competency exam that some paralegals may choose to take after they have earned their certificate or associate’s degree. Earning this designation is what allows people to say that they are “certified” paralegals.
Paralegal certification is not required, but some companies use this designation to help them make hiring decisions since certification tells employers at a glance that you have proven paralegal knowledge. The Paralegal studies curriculum at Rasmussen College is designed to academically prepare you to sit for the National Certified Legal Assistant/Paralegal (CLA/CP) Examination.3
Paralegal career options
There are many career paths available to trained paralegals, whether they earned a paralegal certificate or associate’s degree. Graduates of these programs are qualified to work as paralegals, legal assistants, legal secretaries, court clerks, contract specialists and more.
Paralegals may also have opportunities to specialize depending on their areas of interest and the type of employer they work for. For example, corporate paralegals work with employee contracts and stay up-to-date on government regulations, while litigation paralegals may assist attorneys with research, gather evidence and interview clients.
Pursuing a paralegal career
Now that you’re aware of all the details of a paralegal education, you can see that a career in the legal field may not be as far-fetched as it once sounded!
The first step to pursuing your paralegal career is to choose the type of paralegal training that’s right for you. Learn more about your options in Rasmussen College’s Paralegal programs.
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed April, 2020] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Completion time is dependent on the number of transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term..
3Rasmussen College will reimburse the application fee for each first attempt of all of the industry certification exams for which you qualify to take. Should you need to take an exam more than once to receive a passing score, you will be responsible for all subsequent exam application fees.