Students in associate degree programs in paralegal studies learn the fundamentals of the paralegal profession and different areas of the law. They can apply this knowledge toward potential careers or further paralegal coursework. Over a period of two years, students typically seek either an Associate of Science (A.S.) or Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) in paralegal studies.
Online Associate Degree Programs in Paralegal Studies: Coursework and Overview
Paralegal studies programs generally include a combination of required and elective legal courses and relevant courses outside of the discipline. Although requirements differ by school, there are many courses that are common across degree programs. Examples of these courses are outlined below:
Paralegal Degree Courses
- Introduction to Paralegal Studies: Courses provide an overview of the U.S. legal system and the role of a paralegal. Specific topics commonly covered include paralegal ethics, legal research, and legal terminology.
- Legal Research and Writing: Students learn skills and techniques used in performing and analyzing legal research and also gain experience drafting legal documents, such as memoranda and briefs.
- Tort Law: Courses cover the elements of a number of civil wrongs, such as malpractice and defamation. Concepts often examined in class include intentional torts, negligence, strict liability, and product liability.
- Family Law: Courses explain the paralegal's role in a variety of family law situations. Examples of concepts discussed include marriage, divorce, custody, and support.
- Real Estate Law: Students explore property law concepts and review legal documents commonly used in real estate, such as deeds and leases. Mortgages, property ownership, and real estate transactions are potential topics studied in these classes.
Courses Related to Paralegal Studies
- Business Law: Business law courses review laws and procedures relevant to business matters such as contracts and employment. Law courses like these may be required for some paralegal degree programs.
- Criminal Law: Students gain an introduction to criminal law and procedures and examine topics such as legal defense, the elements of different types of crimes, and the pre- through post-trial procedures.
- English Composition: Students read and analyze literary works through in-class discussions and essays. Courses also provide students with an opportunity to improve their writing and critical thinking skills.
In addition to completing required coursework, many paralegal students pursue relevant internships, which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), may help them enhance their technical skills and chances of employment.
Potential Careers for Individuals with an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies
While a degree cannot guarantee job placement, it can help students gain a foundation in the laws and procedures relevant to potential careers. Below are a few careers that graduates of paralegal associate degree programs may pursue:
- Corporate paralegals assist lawyers in preparing shareholder agreements, financial reports, employee contracts, and stock-option plans. Some of these professionals stay abreast of government regulations so that a corporation finds out when there are new legal requirements. Business law courses can help students acquire an understanding of laws and legal documents important to corporations.
- Litigation paralegals perform legal research, preserve client documents, and collect and organize evidence for trials and depositions. Through legal research and writing classes, students can learn effective research techniques that they can employ as a litigation paralegal.
- Legal secretaries work under the supervision of a lawyer or paralegal. They prepare messages and legal papers, such as summonses and subpoenas, and sometimes assist in legal research or examine legal journals. Since these professionals need an understanding of legal procedures and vocabulary, courses in legal research and writing and introductory paralegal studies can help prepare students for this career.
Bls.gov reveals that having an associate degree in paralegal studies is common among paralegals and legal assistants. Pursuing a career, however, is not the only option available to associate degree holders. Many schools offer a bachelor's degree in the subject, and, as bls.gov states, some employers may see a bachelor's degree as a substitute for professional legal experience. Students interested in continuing their education in paralegal studies should contact an admissions counselor to assess their qualifications.
"Paralegals and Legal Assistants," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm
"Secretaries and Administrative Assistants," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/secretaries-and-administrative-assistants.htm