Did you know that you can perform many of the duties of a lawyer without ever having to attend law school? Becoming a paralegal can open the door to a career in the area of law. Whether you choose to earn a degree or not, you can complete paralegal certificate programs to be prepared for the duties of the job.
Here, we will break down everything you need to know about what it means to be a paralegal. We’ve also compiled ten of the best paralegal certificate programs so you can peruse some options!
What is a Certificate Program?
Certificate programs are narrowly focused and intended to provide you with the skills and knowledge you need to work within a particular industry. Unlike a degree program, certificates usually do not require that you take any general education or elective classes. While there are some certificate programs that do include general education courses, it’s not very common.
Instead, you complete the list of required courses and obtain a diploma or certificate upon completion. This certificate or diploma can then be added to your resume to signal to prospective employers that you have what it takes to fulfill the responsibilities of a specific position.
There are certificate programs for people without degrees or any work experience in their desired field. Or, if a professional has a degree and/or work experience but wishes to excel and learn more about their field, then they can choose from graduate certificate programs.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
Paralegals, also sometimes known as legal assistants, are responsible for many duties that will vary based on where they work.
Some of their tasks include:
- Drafting legal documents
- Summarizing records
- Organizing and maintaining files
- Corresponding with clients
- Performing research
In most cases, paralegals are employed by law firms. However, paralegals can also work in businesses, non-profit organizations, and government agencies.
How to Become a Paralegal
The duties of a paralegal are extremely important to the success of legal cases. Paralegals have the option to pursue various paths in order to work in this position.
Most states don’t have specific requirements, therefore, a prospective paralegal can attend a community college, university, or trade school in order to learn the ropes for the job. It’s possible to earn an associate degree or bachelor’s degree, or forego both and only obtain a paralegal certificate.
If you’re going to attend any school to study to become a paralegal, it’s recommended to select one that is ABA-accredited. ABA stands for American Bar Association, so these programs hold more credibility in the eyes of most legal employers.
The Best Paralegal Certificate Programs
Here are some of the best paralegal certificate programs to attend:
Rasmussen College’s paralegal certificate program can be taken online or in a hybrid model (some in-person and some online). Students have the option to take a self-assessment in order to skip over some coursework they may already know and hasten the pace at which they can complete the program.
In order to take this certificate program, however, students must have an associate or bachelor’s degree. There are 61 credits, with four courses in general education, along with an internship or capstone project.
Post University also offers an online paralegal certificate that consists of 30-33 credits. The program is meant to be finished within a year. Each student is assigned with a faculty advisor. Students gain experience with research, client interaction, the basics of testimony, interrogation, depositions, and document preparation.
This program is intended for anyone looking to work in private or corporate law firms, banks, insurance, government offices, or real estate.
Liberty University’s eight-week, entirely online paralegal program can be completed in just one year. The textbooks are free, which is another reason why this program is said to be affordable.
Students who wish to enroll must show proof of high school completion and English proficiency. If you’ve taken any college courses, you must have a minimum GPA of 2.0.
Lake Superior College’s online paralegal certificate requires students to complete 30 credits. If they wish to then obtain an associate degree, the credits can be applied towards it.
Courses will teach terminology, research, documents, and legal software. The program is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Students who complete the Ocean County College Proficiency in Paralegal Studies program will be prepared to work in law offices and legal environments. Nine courses make up the program, along with two electives, which can be taken in: communications, accounting, management, real estate law, mediation, psychology, or criminal law.
Even if you never completed high school, you can apply for this program. However, to receive financial aid, you’ll at least need to have proof of a GED.
Duke University’s Paralegal Certificate program is an online and self-paced program that takes about a year to complete. Students learn about legal ethics, research, legal writing, legal technology, and pleadings, to name a few topics.
With completion of the program, students can take the National Association of Legal Assistant (NALA) or National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) exams.
The University of California, Davis provides the option to enroll in an online Paralegal Studies Certificate consisting of four courses: California Procedures for Paralegals, Tort Law for Paralegals, Paralegal Studies Certificate Program Essentials, and Contract Law for Paralegals. The program can be completed in as little as six months.
Located in Houston, Texas, Rice University offers an online Paralegal Graduate Certificate Program. The skills-based coursework can take place online and in evening classes.
Since it is a graduate program, it requires that students have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college in order to enroll. The program consists of class projects and exams, and courses are taught by practicing attorneys.
The University of Miami offers its Paralegal Certificate program through the University of Miami Division of Continuing and International Education’s Office of Professional Advancement. The non-credit program will help students understand fourteen substantive areas of law and gain experience needed to work as a paralegal.
Students who enroll in Rutgers University’s Certified Paralegal Certificate are trained in legal research, interviewing witnesses, investigating facts, and preparing cases for litigation. The online program is open for registration year-round. Upon completion, students are ready to apply for entry-level paralegal positions.
Types of Paralegal Positions
Depending on what type of law you are most interested in, you can specialize your paralegal training accordingly. Here are just a few examples of the types of paralegals that exist:
- Corporate Paralegal
- Bankruptcy Paralegal
- Immigration Paralegal
- Criminal Law Paralegal
- Litigation Paralegal
Your Options are Limitless
There is a lot of flexibility when it comes to studying to become a paralegal. Since a degree isn’t always required, you can opt for paralegal certificate programs instead. We’ve listed just a few paralegal certificate programs to choose from, most of which are online and relatively affordable.
If, instead, you wish to earn a degree first before attending any certificate programs, you can consider online universities. At the University of the People, you can earn a degree in Business Administration, for example, and then continue your education to earn a graduate paralegal certificate to work in the field. This way, you’ll have an accredited college degree, hone your business and communications skills, and still be on your way to work as a paralegal!