There are a variety of factors involved when trying to determine which course of study for a paralegal degree would be appropriate for your circumstances. Each prospective student has to determine which is best for them in relation to time, money and flexibility.
Some schools offer two tracks of study that a student can choose from to become a paralegal. One leads to an Associate’s degree, and the other shorter program produces a Professional Certificate. Either one opens pathways into the legal profession as a paralegal.
Pursuing an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies
An associate degree program leading to a paralegal degree is the culmination of study consisting of 60 credit hours of preparation. The prospective student will be introduced to a wide range of required coursework involving core law theory, law terminology and at least one elective legal course geared toward the area of expertise you may be interested in pursuing. Electives in the following areas are available:
- Criminal Law
- Wills, Trusts & Estates
- Employment Law
- Administrative Agency Law
- Immigration Law
- Bankruptcy Law
- Elder Law
The 60 credit hour course of study assumes that you have not taken any previous college-level coursework, and thus each student must also take general education courses in addition to paralegal related courses to attain a paralegal degree. General education courses you will be required to take toward being awarded an Associate’s degree may include classes such as English, Math, Psychology and Government.
General education coursework required usually amounts to 21 credit hours. But, if you previously have attended college and have received credit for that coursework, you may be eligible to transfer those credits to your new institution. Meeting with an Admissions Advisor will help determine which coursework is transferable toward your paralegal degree.
While pursuing your paralegal degree, you can expect a full-time load to represent anywhere from 9-15 credit hours of study, depending on the school’s choice of semesters or trimesters.
Pursuing a Professional Certificate in Paralegal Studies
This second track of coursework is a reduced course load for those seeking to get their foot in the door of an entry-level paralegal position. While not as extensive as pursuing a paralegal degree at only 30 credit hours of coursework, you can still become qualified to work in the field.
This track may be especially helpful to those who want to start work now and continue their studies toward a paralegal degree after they begin their careers. A student choosing this track full-time should expect to complete the coursework in just three terms.
You will be required to complete at least 12 credit hours of college level:
- Oral and Written Communications
- Computer Concepts
Upon completion of the program, you will:
- Be well prepared to take on the responsibilities of a paralegal in any legal environment.
- Demonstrate the necessary skill to perform sound legal research.
- Be able to identify the proper venue or legal subject matter jurisdiction of the state and federal courts in New York City as well as the appropriate offices for filing legal documents and paying fees.
- Be able to conduct an intake interview with a prospective client.
- Be able to prepare a client for trial.
- Be able to plan efficiently and organize the many tasks of a paralegal in a busy law office working within strict time constraints.
Paralegal Degree vs. Paralegal Certificate – What’s the difference?
Although similar, the the main difference between these two paralegal programs is the following:
- A paralegal degree simply means a student has completed a full education course in paralegal studies and has earned their Associate’s degree.
- A paralegal certificate, on the other hand, is granted when a student has obtained the 30 credits needed for a certificate in paralegal studies. This option is quicker and will be at a lesser tuition and is recommended for those with previous legal experience or an earned Bachelor’s degree from a different academic area.
However, regardless of which program he or she enrolls in, a paralegal student cannot deem themselves a certified paralegal until they take and pass an official certification exam, administered by a certified organization, such as The National Associated of Legal Assistants (NALA). These exams are voluntary, but help assure the candidate has reached a specific level of competence and legal understanding. This may make a prospect more attractive to future employers.