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PARALEGAL VS. LEGAL STUDIES: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

They may seem similar, but each prepares you for a very different career.

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Legal studies is a broad term that may sometimes include paralegal under its wide umbrella. So it’s easy to get a little confused about certifications and degrees in legal studies and paralegal studies and which does what.

Many students wishing to work in the field of law begin by earning a paralegal degree or certificate. This is a fundamental “first step” that allows entry into a law career, and may allow you to stay employed as a paralegal while you go on to earn a higher degree in legal studies. It also enables you to get hands-on experience in the field and to see if this is really what you’re cut out to do.

But at the most basic level, paralegal and legal studies take a very different focus. Let’s a look at what you’ll study in a legal studies certificate or degree program.

What are Legal Studies?

Simply put, legal studies are interdisciplinary programs that are theory and society-focused appraisal of how the law works. They could be classified as a legal discipline or a liberal arts discipline, but will likely combine elements and courses from each. Legal studies examine the ideas of law, its institutions, and practices.

What Will I Learn in a Legal Studies Program?

Paralegal coursework is more practical-based and focused upon teaching the industry applications—writing, research, technical, analytical, and administrative skills, as well as law basics—designed to put you to work assisting lawyers, firms and clients. As a paralegal, you’ll have the option to focus on a specific area of law if you wish, such as elder law, wills, trusts and estates, or family and divorce law.

Now, let’s take a look at the types of courses you’ll take in a legal studies program. Here is a sample curriculum from Berkeley College’s Legal Studies bachelor degree program:

  • Law and Economics
  • International Human Rights
  • Government and Family
  • Punishment, Culture, and Society
  • Property and Liberty
  • Supreme Court and Public Policy
  • Immigration and Citizenship
  • Legal Discourse
  • Theories of Justice
  • The Modern Constitution
  • Law and Society
  • Youth and Justice
  • Foundations of Criminal Law
  • Police and Society
  • Foundations of Legal Studies (liberal arts theory)

As you can see, coursework is more expansive and theoretical than the skill-specific classes that prepare a paralegal to quickly enter the field. A legal studies degree aims for high-level careers, and are a good choice for not only those interested in law, but in public administration, public affairs, business administration, political science, and academia.