If you are thinking about going back to school and have an interest in law, you might consider a degree in paralegal studies. Paralegal positions involve a number of areas of expertise such as maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research such as investigating the facts of a case, drafting documents such as wills and bankruptcies as well as court preparation to mention a few.
These days coursework of this type is generally available in a traditional setting as in the classroom but also available online. Either way you go, many of these programs run for approximately two years and allow for receiving a certificate or associates degree. Nevertheless, you have the option to continue if you so choose at a later date and go for a bachelors degree and beyond.
If you choose to study online for a paralegal degree/certificate, this allows for great flexibility in scheduling which allows you to work around your current duties whether it is a job you have or taking care of family. This requires self-motivation on your part as well as generating a schedule to keep you on course. Not everyone is meant for taking online coursework. If you need direct guidance and motivation from an instructor in the classroom, you may need to consider taking coursework on campus. Nevertheless, some schools require you to take initial coursework on campus and then you can switch over to online. Some of the in class courses include what is called general education also know as Gen Eds which includes some computer coursework, English composition, English literature, life science (i.e. Biology), math and physics. These courses fulfill the necessary background you’ll need to perform what every major you choose.
Paralegal Associate Degree or Bachelors?
You need to consider how much time you can dedicate to your paralegal studies not only in the short term but in the long term. If you are working and have a family to care for, you probably want to consider a 2 year program (often 22 months or less) and get an associates degree or state certificate. This gets you there fast for the least amount of money. You can still go back for a bachelors degree (3 to 5 years of coursework) or beyond at a later time when you have the time and money to do so.
For those of you who have schooling in another field, you can transition into a paralegal program and obtain a certificate as well. If you already have a bachelors or associate degree (taken and finished your Gen Eds), you can obtain another degree/certificate within a matter of months.
So, no matter where you are in your career path, keep in mind that the sooner you start a program the sooner you will finish (achieve your goals). There’s no time like the present. For students who are mature and want more out of life, paralegal associate/certificate programs can be your key to success. You’ll be able to make more money as well as work in a comfortable environment.
Most coursework will require that you have access to a library for doing research for term papers and answering homework questions. If you are taking coursework in the classroom, no problem as the instructor will take you to the school’s library and teach you how to use the facilities. This is convenient as it is right on campus. If you take online coursework, you have the option to use your campus library or use a local library. The public library can be used for such purposes but you’ll have to send out for any articles you may want to read that are not available online. If you have a university campus close by (other than the college you are attending), they generally have full access to all journals so long as they teach that particular discipline. University libraries are open to the public and free to use. Whether you are a student or not, it is a good idea to become familiar with your local university library even if you have a computer at home.
Although paralegals don’t earn the kind of money an attorney does, you need to consider the difference in the duration of the coursework (2 year program, possibly 4 year if you continue versus 6 to 8 years to become a lawyer). Paralegals are always in great demand so you shouldn’t have a problem finding a job or replacing one if necessary. You may be able to find a paralegal position while you are in school allowing for on-the-job-training early on. This allows you to get the most benefit out of your studies while earning money.
One of the requirements of a paralegal program is a 120-hour externship whether you are taking your coursework in the classroom or online. An externship is practical training that should be carried out under the direction of a licensed attorney or equivalent. This practical training accounts for 3 to 4 credit hours of coursework credit, however this varies from one institution to another. Not only does this give you hands on experience before you secure a permanent position but it allows you to become familiar with the community and possible job opportunities that you can apply for ahead of time.
Providing the best possible cover letter and resume of your coursework and previous work experience is the key to getting the very best externship you can get along with a high grade point average. This can set you up not only for the best externships available but open the best doors to permanent positions. Keep in mind that not all externships are paid (many are not), however sometimes an unpaid externship may have advantages simply because it is a better opportunity to work with the best in the community. What ever you do, make sure you do an externship. This adds clout to your paralegal degree/certificate. Not only does an externship provide clout but it also aids in further defining your particular interests in the paralegal area.
You can Do it
If you are self-motivated, a quick learner and are interested in a paralegal career, online coursework may help you achieve your goals in as little as 22 months (program times vary depending on educational institution). If you require structured coursework and personal attention, consider traditional in the classroom lectures. Either way you go, you will receive the necessary training to take on a challenging position in the paralegal arena.
Although, paralegals don’t command the salary a lawyer does, they are very important in the structure of legal affairs. And, the nice thing is that there should always be work for you. Your job will involve maintaining and organizing files, conducting research (i.e. investigating the facts of a case) and drafting documents to mention a few. So, don’t delay any longer, get yourself in gear and achieve your goals in less than 2 years and get on with your life. You can do it!