Learn Law and Order with a Legal Studies Degree

Legal Studies degree, Legal Studies schoolThe only thing more varied than law itself is the legal studies program that can help you get your foot in the door. Available on the certificate, associate degree, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate levels, legal studies education programs can be found in schools ranging from Ivy League institutions to online colleges and can cost anywhere from a few hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands.

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Lay Down the Law With a Legal Assistant Career

Actors would be nothing without those who work behind the scenes and we shudder to imagine what lawyers would be without legal assistants to keep their offices running smooth as butter. Armed with top-notch organizational skills, an eye for detail, and a knack for preparing reports that cut straight to the chase, legal assistants help attorneys prepare for trials, stay updated on ongoing cases, collect documentation, and prepare legal correspondence.

Students interested in pursuing a campus-based or online legal assistant certificate or degree program should be optimistic about their path and the opportunities therein. While there’s a strong dose of administrative work that goes into the legal assistant field, these professionals may also take on more active roles in cases by conducting research and interviewing clients, which makes qualities like interpersonal communication and writing skills essential. Just don’t confuse legal assistants with paralegals. The terms are frequently used interchangeably and particularly in smaller organizations, the two may share similar duties, but in larger firms, paralegals oftentimes have job responsibilities that more closely resemble the work of attorneys. Legal assistants, however, handle administrative and project management tasks.

The exact job responsibilities of a legal assistant largely depend on where you work. Finding opportunities in private law firms as well as corporations, all levels of government, court systems, hospitals, financial firms, legal aid organizations, and law libraries, legal assistants may take on general support positions for attorneys or specialize in a particular area of law such as human resources, litigation or family law. No matter where you work, cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics, get ready to work hard. Legal assistants and paralegals oftentimes report working long hours that extend well beyond the standard 9 to 5.

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Step Into the Legal Spotlight With Paralegal Studies

Paralegals never take the spotlight in law dramas, but that doesn’t mean that their work is dull. Paralegals may find themselves doing anything from investigating facts to interviewing clients to prepping documents before a trial date. Paralegals aren’t licensed to practice law, but they do get well-compensated for their work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for paralegals is project to grow 18 percent between now and 2020. Paralegals earn median salaries of $46,730 per year, but the top ten percent rake in $75,400 or more.

Most paralegals break into the field one of three ways — by getting an associate degree in paralegal studies, by completing a bachelor’s degree in the field or by nabbing a bachelor’s degree in a different subject and getting a paralegal certificate. All ways provide a liberals arts background combined with knowledge of the legal field and all are available on campus or as online paralegal studies programs.

The Associate Degree Track

Like most associate degree programs, those enrolled in two-year paralegal studies track will take general education courses in English, basic mathematics, and social sciences concurrent with or followed by upper-level classes in law, civil litigation, criminal justice, legal research, and interviewing techniques. Students at paralegal schools may also have other requirements or electives that focus on specific areas of legal study such as entertainment, business, real estate, contract, estate, immigration, personal injury, or tort law. To supplement classroom learning, some paralegal associate degree programs also require students to complete an internship with a law firm or legal department.

The Bachelor’s Degree Track

A four-year degree provides a strong liberal arts base and time to delve deeper into legal studies. Students spend a full two years developing critical thinking, analytical reading, and deductive reasoning skills through general education classes, then two more years diving into the nitty-gritty of law. Students will take a wide array of law and criminal justice classes and may also be required to take courses in business, economics, technical writing, communication, or organizational psychology. Projects focus on honing writing, research, and interviewing skills and students are oftentimes required to complete an internship on top of classroom assignments.

The Bachelor’s Degree and Certificate Track

It’s possible to break into the paralegal profession with just a certificate, but many employers want to see job experience in the legal field or a different one. Primarily designed for career changers who are making the paralegal switch, this track only requires a few months to a year of paralegal study (assuming, of course, that you’ve already got a four-year degree). Paralegal school classroom and online paralegal certificate programs focus strictly on the legal aspect of the profession and provide students with a concise introduction to how the legal process works, the court systems, the basics of legal research, and what they need to know about document preparation.

Whichever you track opt for, be aware that there are thousands of paralegal studies programs out there, but not all are approved by the American Bar Association. A list of approved paralegal education programs is available at Americanbar.org.