Paralegal bachelor's degree programs can help students gain a comprehensive understanding of the U.S. legal system and important procedures. That foundation can be useful for both entry-level careers and future coursework in law. Full-time students usually complete the degree program in four years, earning a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in paralegal studies or legal studies, depending on the school.
Online bachelor's degree in paralegal studies: coursework and overview
Individuals enrolled in paralegal studies programs take a number of legal electives and general education requirements, along with courses in other areas that may strengthen their familiarity with the American legal environment. While required coursework varies by school, below are some examples of classes that are common across programs:
Paralegal studies degree courses
- Constitutional Law: Courses examine the components and role of the U.S. Constitution, important amendments and often court systems. Concepts frequently covered include the separation of powers, civil rights and due process.
- Contracts: Students gain an overview of an array of topics in contract law, including contract formation, breach of contract and the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) for the sale of goods.
- Legal Ethics: Courses examine codes of ethics and common ethical issues pertaining to paralegals and lawyers. Examples of issues include conflict of interest and malpractice.
- Bankruptcy: Classes review major concepts in consumer bankruptcy policy, such as debt collection, and examine common forms of bankruptcy under the United States Bankruptcy Code. For example, courses could cover Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
- Litigation: Students gain an introduction to major aspects of litigation, including discovery and preparation of legal documents such as summonses and motions. Additional topics include pre-trial, trial and post-trial processes.
Courses related to paralegal studies
- Computer Literacy: Courses intend to help students develop and improve upon their skills using computers, particularly in spreadsheet and word processing software. Some schools require students in paralegal programs to take a specialized course covering computer applications in legal work.
- American Government: Courses cover the development, structure, and role of government institutions in the United States. Examples of topics commonly reviewed include the separation of powers, political parties and the U.S. Constitution.
- Criminal Justice: Students review the development of and institutions within the criminal justice system, including courts, police departments and correctional facilities.
Potential careers for individuals with a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies
A bachelor's degree cannot guarantee one a job in the legal field, but it may enhance one's qualifications. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), if candidates hold a bachelor's degree, employers of paralegals and legal assistants may even waive their preference for professional experience and train applicants on the job. While working toward their degree, students can gain broad exposure to U.S. laws and legal procedures that can benefit them in a variety of potential careers. Below are a few examples:
- Corporate paralegals help lawyers develop legal documents, including stock-option plans, shareholder agreements, companies' financial reports, and employee contracts. They may also keep track of and review government regulations to keep businesses up-to-date on legal requirements. Students hoping to become a corporate paralegal can gain exposure to relevant laws and documents through business law and contract law classes.
- Litigation paralegals conduct legal research and gather and organize evidence for depositions and trials. Paralegals should be proficient in using computers in order to effectively carry out their responsibilities, according to the BLS. Taking a computer literacy course, particularly one centered on legal applications, can thus help prepare individuals for the technical aspect of the career. Additionally, litigation courses can provide students with an understanding of major concepts that they would apply on the job.
- Claims examiners evaluate insurance claims to make sure all guidelines were followed. The BLS states that claims examiners often work for life insurance companies and review health-related claims. These professionals investigate claims to determine the reasonableness of costs and sometimes assess whether insurance applicants are high-risk. According to the BLS, a legal background can benefit claims professionals who deal with workers' compensation and product liability.
Students who have a strong interest in law and wish to continue their education have the option of pursuing a Juris Doctor (J.D.), which is a graduate degree in law. As the BLS states, a bachelor's degree is a prerequisite to most law schools, and earning a J.D. is usually necessary for a career as a lawyer. Students interested in attending law school should consider speaking to an admissions counselor to find out if they qualify.
Those who wish to learn more about bachelor's degree programs in paralegal studies can review the Guide to College Majors in Paralegal Studies.
"13-1031 Claims Adjusters, Examiners, and Investigators," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes131031.htm
"Claims Adjusters, Appraisers, Examiners, and Investigators," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/claims-adjusters-appraisers-examiners-and-investigators.htm
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"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