ONLINE PARALEGAL CERTIFICATE
If you are passionate about legal studies but struggle to find the time or money to earn the necessary education, an online paralegal certificate may be the answer you have been looking for. Paralegals who have completed an online paralegal certificate are in high demand and are more competitive in today’s job market.
But first, it’s a good idea to understand the different job titles you may come across in the field. The title “legal assistant” has grown to include legal clerks, secretaries and paralegals. However, a paralegal is much more than a legal assistant.
The American Bar Association (ABA) defines a paralegal as a person qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.
In most cases additional educational requirements, training and certification are necessary to be recognized as a paralegal. Most paralegals have either an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in another subject and earn a certificate in paralegal studies.
A paralegal certificate can transform a legal secretary into a paralegal by providing the student with expert knowledge in their field of law. This certificate will allow a paralegal more responsibility and ability to assist attorneys with:
- Case management
- Drafting documents
- Legal research
Without a good paralegal, many lawyers would find themselves spending valuable time and money completing these tasks themselves.
Benefits of an Online Paralegal Certificate
There are several different ways you could go to school for a certificate in paralegal studies. You could go to a traditional campus, enroll in a hybrid program or you might choose to complete an online paralegal certificate program.
According to the U.S. census in 2016, of the 77.2 million students aged 16 and over enrolled in undergraduate college, 72 percent worked (20 percent full-time, year-round workers). Of college students who worked less than full-time, year-round, more than half of them worked more than 26 weeks, and of those, half of them worked over 20 hours. If you are one of the many students who are juggling the responsibility of work, school or family an online paralegal certificate might be your best options.
- You have flexibility throughout the work week
- You can travel while completing coursework
- You can save money on commuting, parking and gas
- You don’t have to go out in terrible weather or miss class if you or your family gets sick
If you haven’t taken an online course before, consider these factors:
- Are you organized?
- Are you self-motivated?
- Can work independently?
- Do you have a computer and high-speed Internet at home?
Online Paralegal Courses
An online certificate in paralegal studies provides you with an education in legal research, ethics, formal and legal writing, timeline and development of the paralegal profession, family and litigation law, as well as security regulation, immigration, securities regulation of specific law practices. Students typically complete 12 credits in core competencies and another 12 credits in legal studies electives.
Below is a sample of a few courses student can expect to see in an online paralegal certificate program:
- English 101
- Introduction to Law
- Criminal Law
- Bankruptcy Law
- Intellectual Property
- Civil Litigation
- Dispute Resolution
Many paralegal certificate programs suggest students complete an internship because it can provide students with hands-on learning and increase their marketability. Students can apply for internships by networking, contacting local law firms and state paralegal association.
Once you have completed your certificate program, you might want to consider professional paralegal certification. Although not required, some employers would rather hire an applicant who has state or national credentials. National or state certification provides potential employers with a common standard to assess the skill level and competence of the applicant. Completing a national certification exam displays a dedication to the paralegal community and excellence in their field.
National certification exams are offered by three national paralegal professional organizations:
- National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The Association for Legal Professionals (NALS)
The exams offer a standardized evaluation of paralegals’ expertise, educational foundation and skills.
Some states will allow paralegals with national certification to qualify for state certification, but it’s best to check with you state’s bar association.
Similar to national certification, states certification demonstrates that the paralegal is qualified, competent and committed to the profession. Certification helps to set a standard and ensures that state paralegals understand state-specific legal matters. The following state bar associations offer certification:
- North Carolina
The following state professional paralegal associations offer certification:
- New Jersey
In order to increase job prospects, some paralegals choose to earn certification as a legal document preparer or take the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE).
Requirements for a paralegal differ by state so it’s always a good practice to keep documentation of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) you complete along your professional path. You can always contact your state professional paralegal association if you have questions regarding legal requirements to work as a paralegal.
Cost for Paralegal Certification
Once you’ve earned your online paralegal certificate, you can sit for a state or national exam. However, be prepared to pay the exam fees which range between $200 and $325. This does not include expenses incurred for study materials or practice courses you may choose to use.
As you move along in your career, you may also be expected to take continuing legal education courses or pay for recertification. If you are employed in the legal profession, it can be useful to ask your employer if they’ll reimburse these costs.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
Over the last four decades, the profession of paralegals has grown by leaps and bounds. In the beginning, most lawyers were unable to decipher the job responsibilities of a legal secretary and a paralegal. As more paralegals entered the job market, and law firms began to see the value of an educated and skilled paralegal, the job description and demand for paralegals developed into what it is today. Paralegals are an essential part of the successful provision of legal services. While paralegals often perform administrative duties, they also shoulder much of a lawyer’s workload, exercising a complex understanding of the law. This can be used as a cost-saving measure for clients and law offices.
Depending on your legal specialty and location of employment your day-to day tasks can vary. Paralegals in the field of litigation will work mostly with trials. This type of work usually includes fact-checking and interviewing clients or witnesses. Corporate law paralegals spend much of their time drafting legal documents for key decision makers. But overall, paralegals can expect to do many of the same tasks regardless of where they work.
According to the National Association of Legal Assistant’s 2010 Utilization and Compensation Survey, paralegals spend the majority of their time engaged in the following activities:
- Case management: Coordinating all aspects of a case and ensuring appropriate steps are taken in a timely fashion
- Drafting correspondence
- Calculating legal deadlines and filing documents as required
- Using automation system and computerized support to prepare cases
- Drafting pleadings, document responses and discoveries
- Contacting and conferencing with clients
- Analyzing and summarizing documents
- Performing legal research
- Attending to office matters
U.S. News & World Report ranks paralegals jobs as the 15th best social services job in the United States (2016). The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 15 percent employment growth for paralegals. So what kind of career can you expect after you earn your online certificate in paralegal studies?
Paralegals usually 40 to 45 hours a week in an office. On occasion, they may be expected to work more hours because of deadlines and workloads. Paralegals may be required to travel in order to gather information for cases and collect documents. They may also be required to attend trials, conduct will executions and dispositions with lawyers. Paralegals are expected to meet general administrative tasks as related to office or corporation needs. This line of work can be fast-moving, and paralegals are expected to work on several projects at a time often with tight deadlines.
A paralegal’s job responsibilities can include all of the following:
- Draft and sign legal correspondence (does not include legal opinion or advice)
- Case planning, development, and management
- Prepare for and assist at trial
- Under the supervision of an attorney, interview clients and maintain contact with them
- Summarize documents and proceedings
- Legal research, fact gathering and information retrieval
- Draft and analyze legal documents
- Locate and interview witnesses
- Attend legal functions including executions of wills, real estate closings, depositions, court or administrative hearings and trials with the attorney
Paralegals should also be excellent communicators, solid writers and possess strong interpersonal skills to aid in negotiation and conflict resolution.
It is critical that paralegals remember that only a licensed attorneys are permitted to provide legal advice. Any work completed by a paralegal under the supervision of a lawyer becomes the property and work of the supervising attorney.
Salary and Outlook
Annual Median Salary
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, paralegals earn a median annual income of $49,500. Legal firms are expected to hire more paralegals to increase efficiency and reduce costs through 2026.
Since a paralegal billing rate is significantly less than that of a lawyer, clients are also opting to use the services of a paralegal. This activity alone has increased the job market for paralegals.
It’s easy to see that paralegals are enjoying a surge in popularity which makes now a great time to earn an online paralegal certificate.