Individuals interested in a well-paying job in the legal profession without the time and expense of law school may opt for becoming a paralegal. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 285,600 employed in the category of Paralegals and Legal Assistants as of May 2017 (most recent data). The BLS projects the job growth to be 14% or the change in 41,800 positions through 2026. These stats indicate many opportunities as a paralegal.
Also, the BLS reports the typical entry-level education is an Associate’s degree with a median salary of $50,410. The site, Salary.com, states that the average Paralegal I salary in the United States is $54,690 as of December 01, 2018, but the range typically falls between $48,362 and $61,752. Another source, the employment site Glassdoor, states the average pay for paralegals is $58,100 based on 9,967 reported salaries.
The incomes, stated above, are far below the median pay for a lawyer at $119,250, per the BLS. However, you do not have to endure four years of your bachelor’s degree, followed by three years of law school. Upon graduating from law school, you need to pass the bar examination before you can practice law.
The alternative is to earn a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. This option should advance your career, increase your pay, and seek placement in a larger law firm. With this in mind, we will look at what to expect in a bachelor’s program.
At the undergraduate level, students study different specialties about the law. These are legal matters relevant to real estate, family issues, criminal activity, contracts, torts, civil liability, taxation, and bankruptcy. In addition to the school’s general education requirements, you can expect classes to explore litigation, legal terminology, research methods, and law office. The components of most programs are:
Legal Research and Writing
This course familiarizes students the law library where they will conduct legal research. They become adept at searching through online sources, journals, and legal publications. Students learn how to write legal briefs, citations, pleadings, and related legal documents.
The study of contracts is vital to any legal studies program. Most importantly, you will study the elements of contracts. In particular, the three components that comprise all contracts: an offer, a consideration, and an acceptance.
Torts involve civil matters. When one person causes harm to another person, it is usually a civil case or a matter of tort law. Civil law is generally unrelated to an injury caused to a person as a result of criminal activity. In tort law, the onus is on the injured or harmed party to prove that the other party is liable (the cause of) their injury or loss.
You can choose a program that offers Paralegal Studies concentrations. Examples include:
- Corporate Law: The emphasis is on tort law, contract law, and statutes.
- Estate Planning: Learn about wills, estate planning, establishing the value of an estate, and tax issues on the heirs to an estate.
- Family Law: This branch of law involves divorce, custodial issues, prenuptial contracts, child custody, and adoptions.
- Immigration: Paralegals in this concentration may work in law offices that specialize in the legal status of immigrants. You may help individuals with citizenship documents as they strive for permanent residency in the United States. Bilingual paralegals may need to translate documents and act as a translator.
Additional concentrations found in coursework are Employment Law, Intellectual Law, Victim Advocacy, Energy Law, Disability Law, Criminal Law, and more. These typically follow the core courses that provide a range of law subjects including some of those mentioned, as well as litigation, dispute resolution, trials, ethics, white collar crime, and constitutional law.
Your research may find programs called a Bachelor of Science in Legal Support and Services. Though it lacks the term “paralegal,” the coursework achieves the same objective. As a graduate, you will qualify for a career as a:
- Title examiner- primarily works for title companies or real estate agencies to settle home ownership.
- Legal secretary- works in law offices, administrative offices, or as a legal or magistrate assistant.
- Paralegal- works in a host of settings as a legal analyst or as a specialist in real estate, civil, criminal, or contracts law.
Upon successful completion of your degree requirements, you receive a graduation diploma. You may want to take the next step by becoming certified.
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) offers these exams:
- The Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCE) demonstrates that your college education and this certification make you eligible for work in a variety of paralegal settings. Those who have the PCCE certification can add the CRP or CORE Registered Paralegal to their name. There are qualifiers you must meet to be eligible to take the exam.
- The Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) is for those with a comprehensive education (minimum of an associates degree) in paralegal studies and years of practical experience. Earning the Registered Paralegal (RP) designation will enhance your credentials.