According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth in the paralegal field is expected to be 27% or more through the year 2018. The driving force behind this predicted increase is the attempt to provide more affordable and efficient availability of legal services in the coming years. Although many students enter the profession through formal paralegal training programs, a degree in criminal justice is an alternative path to joining the rapidly expanding discipline of paralegal studies.
What is a Paralegal?
Paralegal jobs with a criminal justice degree involve many of the same tasks performed by an attorney. Lawyers delegate tasks, such as researching facts and preparing documents for court, to the paralegal with a criminal justice degree. Paralegals are also able to help draft contracts, mortgages, separation agreements, and tax returns. In fact, the only activities paralegals cannot legally perform are the five activities categorized as practicing law: giving legal advice, signing legal pleadings and papers on behalf of a party, appearing in court on behalf of another, and setting and collecting fees for legal services.
Paralegals use legal terminology, and document their findings and opinions related to assigned cases to a supervising attorney. As the law becomes larger, professionals who pursue a paralegal career, with criminal justice degree credentials, typically specialize in a certain area of the law. Possible areas of concentration include labor law, intellectual property, criminal law, immigration, and real estate.
Educational Requirements to Work as a Paralegal
There are approximately 1,000 official paralegal training programs at the associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, and master’s degree level. However, many professionals choose to use a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice to enter the field. Often employers will provide on-the-job training in legal activities for the worker with a criminal justice degree or a bachelor’s degree in a related discipline. In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, there are also formal certification and training programs available. Certification as a paralegal is not required for employment, but it may increase competitiveness in the job market.
Opportunities for Advancement as a Paralegal
As with many other occupations, as a paralegal gains more experience, he or she is typically given more responsibility and less supervision on the job. A paralegal career with criminal justice degree credentials may also lead to supervising other paralegals or obtaining a management position within a law firm or corporate legal department. Some paralegals also choose to go on to law school after gaining experience in the legal field. Working as a paralegal can offer insight into a professional’s interest in law, can teach legal terminology, and can provide case reading prior to even stepping foot in a law school classroom.
Earning a Degree in Criminal Justice
A host of criminal justice degree programs exist as well. Typical programs, such as the criminal justice degree online offered at Warren National University, offer education in both administrative and hands-on aspects of the field. Students working towards a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice study courses such as: administration of justice, criminal investigation, written communication in criminal justice, and the American court system.
Florida Metropolitan University Online has a Paralegal Associate’s Degree as well as a Paralegal Bachelor’s Degree for students interested in the field. Kaplan University offers an Associate of Arts and Sciences in Paralegal Studies and a Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies. Their Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies extends to its students such specializations as Alternative Dispute Resolution, Office Management, and Personal Injury. Kaplan also has an advanced program for their bachelor’s degree called Advanced Start in BS Paralegal Studies.
Attending an online college for a criminal justice degree can be a convenient way to maintain work and family responsibilities and gain access to programs that would otherwise be unavailable in some locations.
The occupation of paralegal encompasses a wide variety of activities and career paths. Salaries range from $34,000 with state government positions to more than $80,000 for private law-firm positions. Becoming a paralegal is just one job option for the versatile degree in criminal justice and can lead the way to a lucrative, stable career or be followed by a challenging three years of law school.