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With advances in modern technology, many people are working and studying remotely. When given a choice, not everyone wants to attend classes in person, and if you plan to enroll in a paralegal training program, you may not have to. Paralegal training that used to occur in traditional classroom settings is now available through online paralegal programs.
If you’re wondering how to become a paralegal, consider starting with a training program and paralegal certification. Read on to learn more.
What Is a Paralegal Training Program and How Long is it?
Paralegal training programs provide you with the knowledge and skills needed to become a paralegal. While there is no national standard for paralegal educational or training requirements, most employers expect candidates to have some type of paralegal training.
Each training program has a different timeframe, and you can expect to spend anywhere from several months to a few years in an online paralegal program. Completing a paralegal training program is an essential step to beginning this fulfilling career in law.
Paralegal Certification Requirements
Many employers prefer or require paralegal candidates to hold professional certification. As you determine which training option is right for you, keep in mind that paralegal certification programs do set specific educational requirements.
For example, the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) both confer paralegal certifications.
NALA stipulates that paralegals pursuing its Certified Paralegal credential meet at least one of the below educational requirements:
- A bachelor’s in paralegal studies
- A graduate certificate in paralegal studies
- A paralegal program comprising at least 60 semester hours (including 15 in “substantive legal courses”)
- A paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA)
- An associate degree in paralegal studies
NFPA’s credentials each require different levels of education. The Core Registered Paralegal (CRP)™ designation asks that candidates hold at least a high school diploma or GRE certificate, plus five years of substantive paralegal experience. If you hold a more advanced degree, however, you may qualify for the CRP with less professional experience.
NFPA’s Registered Paralegal (RP)® certification requires candidates to hold an associate degree plus seven years of substantive paralegal experience. If you have a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies, you only need two years of professional paralegal experience.
Types of Paralegal Training Programs
There are a few types of training programs you can choose from if you want to become a paralegal. The program types we discuss below are available online at many universities.
Earning a certificate of completion for a paralegal program is the fastest way to complete some form of paralegal training. Many schools offer this option, and these programs can typically be completed within one year. Some of these certificate programs may require you to already have a college degree.
Many paralegals choose to earn an associate degree in paralegal studies. This option allows you to build a foundation in paralegal studies within a short time period, and you earn a degree in the end.
Another option for aspiring paralegals is to earn a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. While this degree may take longer than some options (typically four years), NFPA highly recommends earning a bachelor’s degree.
Earning a master of legal studies (MLS) degree may be a great option for you if you already have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field. Earning your MLS can prepare you for a successful career as a paralegal.
Benefits of Pursuing a Paralegal Program Online
Completing an online paralegal training program rather than an in-person program has many advantages. The benefits of choosing an online program include:
- You can complete your program at your convenience and in the comfort of your own home.
- Since you won’t need to commute, you can save money on gas or transportation costs.
- You receive the same high-quality education through online paralegal training programs as you would in person.
- In some programs, you can work at your own pace, which allows you to finish your program more quickly.
- If you want an online program but prefer the structure of an interactive classroom environment, you can choose a synchronous program, which allows you to interact live with your classmates and instructors.
- If you already have a college degree, you may be eligible to earn a paralegal certificate quickly through a certificate program designed for those who already have degrees.
- If you complete an ABA-approved program, you may qualify for paralegal certification.
What Should You Look for in a Paralegal Program?
There are so many options for in-person and online paralegal training programs available, it may be hard to decipher which is the right option for you. Below are factors to consider as you research and narrow down online paralegal training programs.
The best way to verify the legitimacy of a paralegal program is through ABA approval. The ABA uses an extensive investigation process to determine whether a paralegal program meets its rigorous training requirements.
Check out the ABA’s online directory of approved paralegal programs. You can search by the university or institution’s name, the location or the type of degree. The directory also notes which programs are available online.
Paralegal training programs may ask for prerequisites, so make sure to check the requirements of each program you are considering. For example, many certificate programs require applicants to already have an associate or bachelor’s degree.
When choosing a paralegal training program, look into options for specializations or concentrations. Paralegals work with various types of attorneys and clients, and a concentration can prepare you to work in a particular area of law.
Some paralegal programs offer one-off elective courses, and others feature more comprehensive concentration tracks. Not all programs offer all areas of specialization, however, so keep your goals in mind as you choose your program.
While this is not an exhaustive list, some common specializations include:
- Bankruptcy law
- Civil trial law
- Corporate law
- Criminal law
- Estate planning and probate law
- Family law
- Government law
- Immigration law
- Intellectual property law
- Oil, gas and mineral law
- Personal injury trial law
- Real estate law
If you want to start your career as a paralegal as quickly as possible, you may want to choose an accelerated option. However, it’s still important to choose a high-quality program. The easiest way to do this is to seek out an accelerated program that’s been approved by the ABA.
Certificate programs are often accelerated, and online associate degree programs are sometimes self-paced, which may allow you to earn your degree more quickly.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Delivery
Synchronous online courses are scheduled at designated times when students and teachers log in for live lectures and discussions. Asynchronous coursework allows students to work at their own pace, accessing course materials when it’s convenient for them. Asynchronous courses may not offer live interaction with instructors or peers.
Career Services and Job Placement Rates
As you consider your paralegal training program options, make sure to understand which career services are available. Find out if your prospective program offers resume preparation assistance or job placement services. Also look for job placement success rates.
Career services department representatives may also have contacts with law firms and other businesses that are hiring paralegals. These connections can help you network as you enter the job market.