Early on in the 1960s, when the paralegal career first developed, the position of the paralegal was sort of an upgrade from a legal secretary. A paralegal was less of an office operations focused job, and not a clear profession.
As the position took shape as the role of an “attorney’s assistant,” post-secondary educational programs were developed to form a certification process. This certification process was recognized by the American Bar Association. The Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) emerged from this process, and is directly related to what we call a paralegal today. The terms have basically the same meaning.
Many technical colleges and other schools still provide these legal assistant certification programs. Today, there are online educational institutions that offer associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies. Some colleges do offer a master’s level paralegal studies program, but that is rarely a requirement to begin a career as a paralegal, and it is not offered at as many schools as lower collegiate degrees in paralegal studies are.
Kaplan University provides both levels of undergraduate degrees online in paralegal studies. Some of the programs offered at Kaplan are the standard bachelor’s of science in paralegal studies, the BS in paralegal studies/alternative dispute resolution, the BS in paralegal studies/office management, and the BS in paralegal studies/personal injury.
Both degrees, associate’s and bachelor’s, require some liberal arts study and focuses paralegal subjects. These include English composition and literature, history, social sciences and a course or two in the areas of fine arts and science as well as torts, family law, legal writing, arbitration and conflict resolution, criminal law, legal research and a course on the structure and functions of the legal system.
While similar basics are covered on both collegiate degree levels, the bachelor’s program naturally covers topics in a greater depth. At a traditional college or university, an associate’s degree would take two years, and a bachelor’s would take four years. The online learning system has accelerated programs that allow students to complete the requirements for these degrees in less time. This study time is considerably shorter if you enroll online with transferable college credits that you have already completed.
Entry level positions at a law office as a legal secretary or clerk might be acquired with minimal certification. Requirements for positions with more case related responsibility like a paralegal are becoming higher. Many law firms desire applicants to posses at least an associate’s degree or, in many cases, a bachelor’s degree. With online programs, these requirements are easier than ever to meet.
Paralegals are often responsible for drafting arguments for attorneys, brief writing, interviewing potential clients, and other law office duties. This is why a four year degree in paralegal studies is desirable. If you are interested in a career like this and don’t want to spend four years on a a campus, online programs may be the path you want to take.