Paralegal Degree Information and Timelineby:
Now that you have decided you would like to pursue a legal career, there are many questions you need to ask yourself in preparation.
How long does it take to become a Paralegal?
What kind of degree curriculum can I expect?
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Choosing a career path to become a paralegal has become a widely popular preference among young adults. The profession has witnessed an explosive growth in the past decade in both the US and UK. Moreover, extensive job market research reveals that the demand will see a rising surge in the coming years, making it a very rewarding and progressive career opportunity.
Students undergoing education and training to become one are typically taught basic disciplines in areas of law, such as contracts, real estate property, criminal and personal injury.
They might also obtain further training in civil litigation, during which they are trained on different levels of civil lawsuits like filing a complaint, responding to complaints, taking discovery, filing any worthwhile motions, and going to trial.
With On The Job Training, How Long Does it Take to Become a Paralegal?
There are many progressive and exciting job opportunities in this field. You work directly for law firms or judges, advising them on the law that is relevant to cases waiting before them or work with organizations and government institutions.
In order to become a paralegal, you need to invest a significant amount of time, effort and money. The duration of the entire educational process depends on the route you take.
The process can take anywhere from a few months for a basic training program to 4 years to obtain a specialized degree in paralegal studies. The four common routes are:
- Certification Program
- Associates Degree
- Bachelor’s Degree
- Master’s Degree
Paralegal Certification Program
The certification program lasts approximately 8-12 months and is the most basic route of training that a paralegal can take. This path is not recommended to someone who has not obtained a degree. Certification programs are most commonly pursued by individuals who already have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field, but aspire to become one..
If you want to become one but are hesitant to invest the years that it takes to obtain a degree, an accredited certificate is an advisable alternate.
Obtaining a certificate in paralegal studies is the quickest approach to becoming eligible for available positions in law firms, and it usually takes less than a year to complete certification programs for these studies. Due to this reduced time, many students prefer the idea of a certificate program over a full degree program.
The reason why these certificate programs are shorter than degree programs is that they focus mainly on the information that is specifically applicable to the given field. This way you can avoid taking any general courses during a certification program and save time.
Types of Paralegal Certification Programs
If you choose to take the certification route, there are two types of certificates you can obtain.
1. Undergraduate Certificate
These certification programs are ideal for those who do not have a degree already and only wish to learn the fundamentals of the field.
During the undergraduate certification you can expect to take courses in corporate law, lawsuits, litigation and real estate law as well as some practical courses. This program will teach you the basic skills for becoming a paralegal, but you will face fierce competition in the job market from those who have a bachelor’s degree.
2. Graduate Certificates
The graduate certification program is an advanced course designed for people who already have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, or have prior experience in the field. A bachelor’s degree in any paralegal subject is enough for qualifying for a graduate certification program.
During the graduate certification, you will take courses like advanced legal research and writing, civil and criminal legal procedure and intellectual property law.
Online Certification Program
Online certification programs are acceptable giving you many options for taking online courses. Many schools offer online programs for both undergraduate and graduate certification. You just have to be careful in choosing your online program to ensure that the online program has quality resources that you can use for your legal research.
Paralegal Associate’s Degree
Students who are not willing to commit to a four-year degree program and aspire to achieve an associate’s degree over the course of two years (full-time) with the goal of working as a paralegal upon completion can choose this option.
The associate’s degree program is also appealing to students who seek to pay for continuing their education on a part-time basis towards a bachelor’s degree while working as a paralegal. Also, this program is a good option for individuals who are already working and wish to advance in their career path to obtain a better, higher-paying job, but do not have previous college credits.
Obtaining an associates degree is the most common education route to become competitive paralegal in the field of law. An associate’s degree takes a year and a half or two years and is the path chosen by most entry level peoples.
This program educates students about everything that they need to know to obtain an entry level job, and is in fact preferred by most employers.
An associate’s degree trains individuals about the vital components of the judicial system and the legal profession. During an associate degree, students obtain practical legal training in key subjects such a legal terminology, preparing pleadings, research understanding the legal system and law office management.
You will obtain training in diverse aspects of the law, such as civil litigation, contract law, family law, probate, trial preparation and others. Furthermore, students who complete an associate’s degree in paralegal studies from an accredited school may advance to fields such as pre-law, law, legal research and judicial science.
Associate degree’s qualify students to apply with private law firms, corporate law department, title companies, banks, law enforcement agencies, government agencies and prosecutors where they will be able to successfully understand and work with legal documents, pleadings, briefs and contracts.
A associate’s degree can be obtained from an accredited institution or online. Both methods are equally acceptable and impart similar education and knowledge regarding the field.
Paralegal Bachelor’s Degree
If you want to become specialized and competitive, the best course of action is to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Becoming a paralegal by obtaining a bachelors degree augments your chances of success.
The 4-year bachelor’s degree program provides advance level of education and experience than an associate’s degree. Students who complete a bachelor’s degree have an advantage over the associate degree holders with only 2 years of additional education.
Students can obtain a bachelors degree by completing about 120 to 130 college credits, typically during four or five years of full-time study. Bachelor’s degrees are offered by many colleges and universities, including public universities, private universities, career colleges and online schools. The bachelor’s program can be completed through on-campus courses, online schools or a combination of the two.
Taking summer classes, online classes or completing advanced placement classes in high school can cut down the time it takes to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
However, you need to be very selective about the school you go to for your paralegal bachelor’s degree. All institutions are equally credible in the books of prospective employers.
Why Get a Bachelor’s Degree?
You need to understand the competitive advantage you will have by obtaining two additional years of educations against those who have an associate’s degree or paralegal certification. There are two primary benefits: pay and future prospects.
1. Firstly, the two additional years of time, energy and money that you put in obtaining a bachelor’s degree will pay off when you are offered a significantly higher remuneration package than those with associate’s degree or a certification.
Even if firms are looking for individuals with an associate’s degree so that they don’t have to pay as much, they will have a lot of candidates to choose from. In this case, it will be tougher for associate degree holders to stand out in the crowd. With a bachelor’s degree you can complete for lower paying entry level positions and use this opportunity to gain experience and apply to better firms to advance in your career.
2. Secondly, the educational and knowledge you gain during a bachelor’s degree program puts you in a better position to be trusted with advance tasks during your career.
Apart from the routine areas of litigation, corporate law, criminal law, personal injury, intellectual property bankruptcy, labor law, family law and immigration you will gain additional knowledge in key areas like trusts, wills, estate planning, criminal law II, family law II, civil litigation II, advance trial procedure, intellectual property, labor law and research and writing II.
You will have the more opportunities to learn from professors who are legal practitioners with real-world proficiency in legal services, law, and policy. This firsthand experience and practical knowledge will increase your chances of entering top law firms.
Paralegal Master’s Degree
Some colleges and universities that already offer undergraduate degree programs are now offering an advanced masters degree in paralegal studies. For an entry-level option, a master’s degree is assumed to be overkill.
The master’s degree is most likely pursued by experienced candidates looking to advance further in their careers. To apply for a master’s degree, one should first obtain the 4-year bachelor degree. On an average, the master’s degree will take 2 years to complete. This adds up to a total duration of 6 years to complete a master’s degree.
A master’s degree will give you the opportunity to delve deeper into a specific field of study and specialize in a certain area of law to help you become an expert on that subject matter and promote career advancement. The postgraduate program will explore the law structure and system and the role of lawyers and judges. This should shed some light on how long does it take to become a Paralegal.
On Job Training
Including on job training, how long will this take? Once you have successfully completed the minimum requirement such as obtaining a certification, associates or a bachelor’s degree, the real training begins once you start working.
Regardless of all the knowledge you have gained on-campus on from online schools, the practical experience you gain on the job is unparalleled. No matter how prepared you think you are, the learning curve is still very steep.
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Your success during the on job training will largely depend on your abilities and determination – how quickly you learn and how devoted you are to move up the success ladder. Another important factor affecting the on job training could be your mentor.
Depending on the outcome of this factor combined, you might excel at your job in a matter of a few weeks, months or about a year. One proactive approach to help you avoid trivial issues when you land in an actual paralegal job is to obtain an internship while you are still in school.
This will give you more not only help you during your education ,the practical experience and exposure will ease your path in getting a good position after you have completed your certification or degree program.
Official Paralegal Certification – The NALA Test
Once you have obtained the basic certification, initial training or finished your degree program, you should consider becoming officially certified by the federal government. Although this step is not mandatory, it is highly desired by some top employers and firms.
In order to be certified by the federal government, you will be required to pass a two day examination arranged by the National Association of Legal Assistants or NALA. Once you pass this certification exam, your chances of landing in a job among the top firms as a paralegal will greatly increase.
Which Is the Best Program For You?
That primarily relies on which program you choose and what works best with your schedule.
The answer to this question largely depends on you – how much time you are willing to spend, how much compensation you expect and what your future ambitions are.
For some people, a paralegal certification program might be enough to match their career goals to land in an entry level job in a law firm. For others, an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree might seem like the right course of action.
For those already working in law firms and looking to further advance their career, obtaining a master’s degree might sound worthwhile.
You might be tempted by the short time-frame offered by a certificate program or by the advance education and experience offered by a master’s degree, most people aspiring to become one are best suited to an associates program or bachelor’s degree program.
Taking the time to invest in yourself and advancing your professional career is a very rewarding feeling.
What has drawn your interest in the legal field? Which educational program is best for your career path? Share with us in the comments!
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by: Gerald Buck