Paralegals, also called legal assistants, hold positions in attorney's offices, corporations, or the government. Although not licensed to practice law, they perform many tasks in a law office, and must have a firm understanding of the legal system. A paralegal can have a certificate (diploma), associate's, bachelor's or master's degree in paralegal studies. Certificates and associate's degrees can be quickly earned in online programs.
Things You'll Need
- High school diploma or GED
Locate an accredited online paralegal school that offers a certificate program or an associate's degree in paralegal studies. Certificate programs can be completed in six to 18 months. Associate's degrees can be completed in 18 to 24 months. Visit "Get Degrees" (see resources) for a listing of accredited schools.
Verify the system requirements. Your computer should meet the minimum requirements of your school. Online schools may require you to communicate on a particular instant messenger or chat room, watch streaming video lectures and presentations, or use a certain browser. Microsoft Office and Adobe Reader are also very common mandatory programs.
Enroll and begin your courses. Online schools are set up in different ways. Some allow you to study at your own pace, as long as you complete the entire program within a set time frame. Others follow a calendar with start and end dates for each class in the course of study.
Take a certification exam. Although not required for employment, certification exhibits proficiency in the paralegal field. Several professional organizations certify paralegals and have different requirements for continuing education. See the resources for a list of these groups.
Tips & Warnings
- Many employers only hire graduates of American Bar Association approved schools, so this may be another criteria to consider.
- Find out if your school offers certification as a part of the program. If they do not, this is not a sign of a sub-standard school, but it can save you money on exam fees.
- Some schools designate the certificate program as a diploma program.
- The term legal assistant is interchangeable with paralegal. Some schools may list their programs as a legal assistant diploma program.
- Federal financial aid is not available for certificate/diploma programs. If you need financial aid, you may want to spend the extra time to get an associate's or bachelor's degree.
- Some certificate programs require you have a bachelor's degree in another field. These are designated as post-baccalaureate certificate programs.
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