Online Paralegal Degree Program

You don’t have to be a lawyer to benefit from an education in law. A degree in legal studies can be a valuable asset for professionals working in diverse fields such as business, government and criminal justice. At a time when litigation and liability pose significant risks to employers, job candidates with an excellent understanding of the legal system may find themselves in high demand.

According to The College Board, paralegals do much of what attorneys can do — but they cost less and have less grueling schedules. This can allow individuals who want to contribute meaningfully to the legal system work in the field without the expense and time needed to become a lawyer. Online paralegal and legal studies degree programs can help such individuals gain the knowledge and skills they need to work in the legal field without having to compromise on work, family and other commitments.

While practical legal services skills can be taught, many of the characteristics of a great legal assistant are inherent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and The College Board, occupations within the legal field may work well for those who are interested in how the law works in conjunction with society, enjoy research and have good organizational skills.

Read on to learn how you can get paralegal and legal services degrees online.

Many paralegal and legal services grads become paralegals, assisting attorneys in case preparation, but others apply their newly refined reasoning and research skills to other fields. Individuals with a degree in legal studies may go on to work in corporate law, business, government or law enforcement. A couple of occupations and their associated duties are listed below:

Paralegal and legal assistants:

  • Investigating facts and gathering details for a case
  • Researching laws, regulations and legal articles
  • Drafting legal documents and handling correspondence for attorneys
  • Filing briefs, appeals and other necessary legal documents with the court

Arbitrator, mediator, or conciliators:

  • Guiding disputing parties toward mutual agreement
  • Applying laws, precedents, regulations and policies to help parties reach settlements
  • Evaluating information gleaned from claimants, witnesses, employer records etc. regarding disputes
  • Preparing settlement documents for signing
New roles in litigation support, e-discovery, and trial technology have emerged to address the electronic realities of a digital age.

As an employee in the legal field, you may be able to go into any kind of work. Individuals with a degree in legal studies may go on to work in corporate law, business, government or law enforcement. Private law firms should continue to be the predominant employer of paralegal workers, but other organizations, such as banks, corporate legal departments and insurance companies could also produce job leads, according to the BLS.

The following table lists the occupations related to the field of paralegal and legal studies including the BLS’s statistics regarding total employment, job openings and mean wages in the years leading up to 2026.

According to the BLS, most paralegal and legal services majors earn certificates or associate degrees, or have a bachelor’s degree in another field with a certificate in paralegal studies. However, as competition increases, paralegal degrees at the bachelor’s level may help secure better jobs. Legal studies degrees may generally be found at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. However, some schools may also offer certificates in legal topics, such as labor relations, for those who want specialized skills and knowledge. These certificate programs are generally available to those who already hold a bachelor’s degree. At the master’s degree level, students can advance their understanding of legal theory and its application. Graduates may go on to work as business executives, litigation support specialists or human resources professionals.

Prospective students should be aware a Master of Science in Law degree is not the same as a Juris Doctor, which is earned from a professional law school, and cannot be used to sit for the bar examination.

What can I expect to learn in an online certificate program?

You may find that online legal studies certificates are usually geared toward individuals wanting to become paralegals. However, you may also find specialized legal studies’ certificates that are tailored toward individuals aspiring to be legal secretaries or wish to specialize in legal topics like employment law, personal injury and legal investigation among others. As you may find a considerable overlap in the coursework, admissions requirements and study period, we have discussed online paralegal certificates in the section below.

Online paralegal certificate programs can act as an introduction to the legal world and students can learn to interpret ‘legalese’, draw up documents to communicate effectively and the basic tech used in a law office.

Typical duration: Up to one year of part-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent

Typical coursework: Curricula include topics that can help students understand the foundations of litigation, different court proceedings, and how to draw up basic legal documents. Courses you may take include:

  • Introduction to paralegalism
  • Real estate law
  • Legal research methods

Possible electives: Corporate and property law; wills, trusts and estates; alternate dispute resolution

What can I do after earning a certificate in paralegal services and legal studies?

Certificates in paralegal services and legal studies may qualify you to work in entry-level roles in law offices, banks or other settings requiring some knowledge of the legal system. Potential job titles include:

  • Paralegal
  • Legal secretary
  • Legal assistant
Social networking is changing how legal professionals recruit, job hunt, network, locate and discredit witnesses, manage their careers and interact with clients.

What can I expect to learn in an online associate degree program?

As with online certificate programs you may find considerable overlap between associate degrees in paralegal services and legal studies. You may be able to tailor your electives in order to choose a career path other than becoming a paralegal, depending on the program.

Online paralegal associate degree programs can teach students a mix of legal theory and practical skills applications. Students can learn to navigate legal research tools, build legal ethics and draw up detailed legal documents.

Typical duration: Up to two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent

Typical coursework: Topics you may study may cover legal investigation, civil and criminal litigation, contracts and more. Some courses you may take include:

  • Civil litigation
  • Introduction to American jurisprudence
  • Introduction to law
  • Legal document drafting
  • Legal research and writing

You may also have to complete a capstone project as a part of your online associate degree program.

Possible electives: Alternative dispute resolution; alternative dispute resolution; criminal procedure

What kind of jobs can I get after earning an associate degree in paralegal services or legal studies?

An associate degree may result you being eligible for higher-paying and more diverse jobs than with a certificate. Apart from law firms and courts, you may be able to find a career within businesses providing legal support and research for their operations. Potential occupations include:

  • Paralegal
  • Legal secretary
  • Court administrative assistant
  • Court clerk
  • Compliance specialist
  • Contract specialist

What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor’s degree program?

The BLS reports that only a small number of schools offer bachelor’s degrees in paralegal services. However, you may be able to complete an online bachelor’s degree in legal studies with a concentration in paralegal services instead.

Students can learn about how technology is used in the legal field and how to use different software applications, explore policy issues, understand how to interpret and analyze legal materials and learn to hone their critical thinking skills.

Typical duration: Up to four years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent

Typical coursework: Curricula cover common practices in law, ethics, methods of dispute resolution, contemporary governance and more. Courses you may take include:

  • Business law
  • Constitutional governance
  • Ethics and the legal environment
  • Interviewing, negotiation and alternative dispute resolution
  • White collar crime

You may have to complete an internship or a capstone project as a part of your online paralegal degree program

Possible electives: Victim advocacy; law practice management; electronic discovery and legal technology

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a bachelor’s in paralegal services and legal studies?

According to the BLS, many employers may require paralegal candidates to have a bachelor’s degree. Graduates of online paralegal and legal studies programs may be able to find employment in law, nonprofit organizations, public administration, correctional facilities, government agencies and healthcare, to name a few industries. Potential job titles include:

  • Claims adjuster
  • Contracts administrator
  • Law clerk
  • Legal assistant
  • Occupational health and safety specialist
  • Paralegal

As law firms continue to expand their footprint worldwide, globalization is likely to continue to reshape the landscape of the legal industry in the coming years.

What can I expect to learn in an online master’s degree program?

Online paralegal degrees at the master’s level are rare. However, a master’s degree in legal studies may help you advance your education and climb the career ladder.

Students of online master’s degree programs in legal studies take advanced legal courses to build their knowledge in the law, legal terminology and tech. They can learn how to navigate different aspects of the law in order to work independently when a licensed attorney is not required. Students may also learn to conduct independent research.

Typical duration: Up to two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree

Typical coursework: Courses can help give students the legal tools and know-how to navigate through highly regulated industries through topics like risk assessment, business law, professional standards and compliance. Some courses you may take include:

  • Compliance skills: auditing, investigation and reporting
  • Jurisprudence and legal history
  • Law and organizational management
  • Law and strategy
  • Risk assessment and management

You may have to complete a capstone project or a master’s thesis as a part of your online legal studies degree program.

Possible electives: The law of cybersecurity and data protection; legal issues in employee hiring and termination; legal regulation of pharmaceutical and medical device sales and marketing practices

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a master’s in legal studies?

Graduates with a master’s degree in legal studies may be able to find employment in a variety of firms other than just law firms. They may be eligible for management and executive-level roles in different entities including financial firms, banks, and government agencies apart from others. Potential job titles include:

  • Business executive
  • Corporate compliance and compliance officer
  • Government relations officer
  • Legal consultant
  • Legal nurse consultant
  • Patent agent
Environmental law or “green law” is a growing practice area and many firms are establishing niche sub-practices in fair trade, organics, renewable energy, green building, and climate change.

What can I expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?

The BLS states that though bachelor’s degrees and paralegal services are rare, many employers prefer hiring candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree. This is where graduate certificates in paralegal services and legal studies may come in handy. The BLS reports that many aspiring paralegals therefore, earn their undergraduate degrees in another field before going on to earn a graduate certificate in paralegal services. This can help them work in the legal field without having to complete an expensive law degree.

Legal studies graduate programs offer similar outcomes for students whereby they may be able to apply the law in a number of settings where the services of a lawyer are not mandatory and also be able to work closely with lawyers, attorney and other legal counsel as required.

Typical duration: Up to one year of part-time study

General prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree

Typical coursework: Curricula cover topics to build knowledge and skills that can be applied directly to different occupations in the legal field like contract law, torts, insurance law and bankruptcy. Some courses you may take include:

  • Civil actions
  • Computerized legal research
  • Law and administrative agencies
  • Law and public policy
  • Law, civil liberties and the constitution

What can I expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?

Online doctoral degrees in legal studies can help students develop their legal reasoning, leadership and research skills in areas of their interest.

Typical duration: Three to seven years of full-time study

General prerequisites: Master’s degree in legal studies or a related field

Typical coursework: Curricula include advanced topics in the legal field including how to conduct academic research and independent study. Some courses you may take include:

  • Antitrust policies
  • Economics for policy analysis
  • Foundations of business law
  • Historical foundations of American law
  • Political and moral ethics and dilemmas

Dissertation: A major part of the doctoral degree program is spent researching and writing a doctoral thesis. They must then mount a defense of the dissertation before a committee made up of experts in the field.

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a doctorate in legal studies?

A doctorate in legal studies can allow graduates to enter the fields of legal research and academia. They may be able to teach in universities or enter executive positions in various industries depending on their specialization. Potential job titles include:

  • Corporate consultant
  • Postdoctoral research associate
  • University professor

Accreditation

Accreditation is an important factor to consider while choosing an online paralegal and legal studies program. Accreditation means that the school or program has voluntarily undergone rigorous assessment processes by external bodies that demonstrate that their educational offerings meet or exceed the requirements of the professional world. Attending an accredited program can also be an important prerequisite for receiving federal financial aid, grants, and scholarships as well as for professional licensures.

While the American Bar Association (ABA) accredits law schools, it does not accredit online programs. However, many law schools offer online versions of their on-campus counterparts. Online legal studies and paralegal programs may be regionally or nationally accredited by other accrediting bodies as well.

Powerful mobile devices, software-as-a-service, and secure, web-based technology allow legal professionals to work from virtually anywhere. As a result, more legal professionals are working remotely from home or a virtual law office.

Specializations in Legal Studies

The legal field is vast with a myriad of laws, policies and regulations applying to different aspects of industries and society. A specialization may help you pursue a career in an area of law that interests you. Potential specializations include:

  • Criminal law
  • Cybersecurity and information privacy compliance
  • Environmental law and policy
  • Healthcare compliance
  • Higher education compliance
  • Human resources
  • Mining law and policy
  • NCAA compliance and sports law

Certifications in Paralegal and Other Legal Services

Professional certifications may not be necessary but they can add to your credibility as an expert in your field. The BLS states that some employers may prefer hiring individuals with such credentials. Potential certifications include:

The high demand for paralegals and personnel with a working knowledge of the law means that there are plenty of scholarships and grants for eligible students within the paralegal and legal studies field. They may be offered by professional bodies, law firms and universities among other such entities. Some scholarships to help you get started in your search are:

Other resources for those aspiring to work in the paralegal and legal services field

Employment Statistics

Industries with the highest concentration of employment

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Legal Services
  • Other Investment Pools and Funds
  • Lessors of Nonfinancial Intangible Assets (except Copyrighted Works)
  • Federal Executive Branch (OES Designation)
  • State Government, Excluding Schools and Hospitals (OES Designation)
States with the highest level of employment
  • California
  • Florida
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Illinois
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
  • Napa, CA
  • Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA
  • Trenton, NJ
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV

Compliance Officer

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Federal Executive Branch (OES Designation)
  • State Government, excluding schools and hospitals (OES Designation)
  • Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing
  • Insurance and Employee Benefit Funds
  • Lessors of Nonfinancial Intangible Assets (except Copyrighted Works)
States with the highest level of employment
  • California
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Pennsylvania
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
  • Danbury, CT
  • Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA
  • Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT
  • Salinas, CA

Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

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