If you have ever thought of becoming a paralegal, you’re in the right place. There are plenty of ways to get into the business of being a paralegal, but one of the easiest ways for many is to pursue an online paralegal degree. This opens up quite a few job opportunities and not all of them involve working for a law firm.
Paralegals are commonly heard of, but not many people actually know what they do. Being a paralegal doesn’t necessarily mean you just work for lawyers and law firms. In fact, paralegals are hired in a diverse range of fields to help perform legal work typically done by lawyers, especially if you choose to double major in paralegal studies and another field of interest.
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A lot of tasks performed by paralegals are things lawyers need done but don’t have time to do. This includes finding and conducting interviews with witnesses, doing investigations and legal, documentary, statistical research, drafting legal documents, summarizing depositions, interrogations, testimonies, and attending events like executions of wills or court trials and hearings.
Working as a paralegal, you can expect to make an average salary of $57,393 per year, but the typical range falls between $50,000 to $65,000 per year. As with any other job, you have the opportunity to advance your pay and by gaining experience and completing a higher level of education.
Online Paralegal Degrees
Earning a paralegal degree or certificate online is a great way to advance your career without sacrificing too much time or your current job. Being able to continue working, whether part-time or full-time, without changing your schedule to accommodate classes is a great perk of going to school online. This will allow you to continue gaining work experience as you work toward your education and career goals.
Earning an online degree can also help you focus on the development of your organizational and time management skills, two things you definitely need if you plan to be a paralegal. These are both crucial to success in online courses and while it may take a semester or two to really get the hang of everything, you will be surprised by how well these skills develop by the time you earn your degree.
Online Paralegal Certificates
If you don’t feel the need to pursue a more costly and time-consuming degree, there are plenty of options available to earn a paralegal certificate online. With a paralegal certificate, you are able to apply for entry-level jobs. While your salary would certainly be less than if you had a master’s degree, you’ll gain work experience.
You can get many of the same jobs with a paralegal certificate as you would with a higher level of degree, but you will not be granted as much authority. Some jobs that are commonly sought after by those with paralegal certificates include working as part of a court system or for smaller legal companies.
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Online Paralegal Bachelor’s Degrees
Having a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies is the step above a certificate for someone planning to advance as far as possible in their career. Luckily, there are just as many online programs for paralegal bachelor’s degrees online as there are for certificates.
To earn a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies, you will need to have completed all of the general education requirements for the college of your choice. If you are transferring to another college, be sure to double-check that your credits will transfer with you.
A typical online bachelor’s degree program will take about two years to complete, but there are always options for making this time go by faster, or slower. At some universities, you can complete programs in less than two years and others will allow you to take as much time as you need. There are options available for all types of learners.
Online Paralegal Graduate Degrees
To fully advance and go as far as possible in your field, you may be thinking about pursuing a graduate-level degree. Doing this will allow you to gain more knowledge in the field of paralegal studies and will greatly improve the likelihood of being hired for your dream job.
A general rule of thumb for graduate degrees is to expect to add an additional two years of college for each degree level you plan to complete. So, to earn a master’s degree, you can expect it to take around two years on top of your bachelor’s degree, and a doctorate would likely take two more years on top of that. There are many fast-paced programs available to speed up the time it takes to complete everything as well as some programs that will allow you to take five to 10 years to complete your degree.
Earning a graduate-level degree online is becoming more and more common because many programs require so many years of professional experience before applying. Once you have a foot in the door, you will likely not want to quit your job to go back to school, so enrolling in an online program is the best option.
To be accepted into most master’s and doctorate programs, you will need to have completed a bachelor’s degree and (for a doctorate) a master’s degree in your field of study. You will also often be required to have maintained a GPA of 3.0 or higher, though this depends on the program.
Once you graduate, there are plenty of career paths you could take using your paralegal degree or certificate. Let’s explore some below.
Paralegal Degree Career Paths
Law Firm Paralegals
Paralegals who work in law firms are essentially assistants to the lawyers and attorneys working there. By helping out with things like drafting legal documents, paralegals are valuable assets to law firms everywhere. Deciding to work as a paralegal in a law firm is a great decision if you want to get in the door of the legal world and have goals of advancing your career to becoming a lawyer or attorney yourself someday.
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If you are interested in working for non-governmental organizations like the Red Cross, being an NGO paralegal may be a good option for you. People working in this job are able to hone in on their interests, such as providing healthcare or doing environmental work. With thousands of NGOs in existence, it isn’t difficult to find one whose mission you agree with.
Working as an NGO paralegal, you would be tasked with a wide variety of responsibilities depending on the NGO you work for. Your job could include everything from helping create legal documents within a medical field to helping the less fortunate file papers for divorce or child custody. Either way, you would be required to know how government regulations may affect the work being done by the NGO that employs you.
Nursing paralegals are relatively new and the position came about because medical institutions are in desperate need for legal help and advice, and want to cut costs by using paralegals rather than hiring attorneys or lawyers for every need.
It is common practice for nurses to also become paralegals, making them more employable and helping hospitals and insurance agencies cut back on expenses by hiring one less employee. Deciding to double major to become both a nurse and a paralegal would be a great way for you to ensure a successful career if you’re interested in nursing.
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Real Estate Paralegals
Interested in working in real estate? Becoming a real estate paralegal would make you an extremely valuable member of any real estate or title insurance agency. Many agencies have their own legal teams now and paralegals are the ones who have the responsibilities of drafting contracts, ordering and reviewing surveys on properties, and creating title insurance policies.
Real estate paralegals are very important to agencies in preventing serious consequences to both agencies and buyers because they help clear up all legal requirements and prevent mistakes from being made in legal documentation.
When all is said and done, becoming a paralegal is a great career move for those who have an interest in law and helping people. Being able to work in a variety of fields and organizations, from law firms to NGOs to healthcare, there are plenty of options to suit your personal interests. Though legal work may not be the first thought that comes to mind when you think of helping people, earning an online paralegal degree really does give you the ability to improve many people’s lives.