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Exploring Your Path in Legal Support: A Deep Dive into Paralegal Studies Programs

Published on: Mar 24, 2024

A paralegal studies program is designed to provide individuals with a comprehensive understanding of the legal profession and help them develop crucial foundational legal skills. These programs can benefit those who want to pursue a career in the legal field and improve their problem-solving, communication, and innovative abilities. Completing a paralegal studies program can also open doors to a successful job in the legal industry, including positions such as legal assistants, paralegals, and other legal support roles. Paralegal studies programs provide opportunities for professional growth, job security, and strong earnings potential.

More importantly, there are various options for individuals interested in completing a paralegal studies program, including associate degrees, bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, and certificate programs.

In this article, we will explore paralegal studies programs in more detail and help you better understand how they can help advance your career.

Understanding Paralegal Studies

A paralegal studies program teaches students how to analyze and research topics related to data, evidence, and legal documentation. These programs can also expand on fundamental legal skills, including analysis, research, and office management. Depending on the organization, these programs may also offer on-the-job training by helping students obtain internships, which can provide critical experience in the legal field.

Although the specific paralegal studies program curriculum will depend on the school or organization, the standard core classes generally include the following:

  • Civil procedure

  • Tort law

  • Business law

  • Legal research and legal writing

  • Substantive legal work

  • Law office management

  • Family law

  • Ethics

  • Administrative law

It is also important to point out that while legal studies and paralegal studies help individuals prepare for the legal field, legal studies refer to a broader legal education that helps prepare individuals for various legal positions. In comparison, paralegal studies emphasize the application of law in paralegal roles.

Educational Pathways in Paralegal Studies

To succeed in their roles, aspiring paralegals need to develop essential skills in research, organization, technology, and interpersonal communication. Fortunately, there are various pathways to acquiring these paralegal skills.

Associate Degrees

An Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies provides training for individuals wanting to perform substantive legal work as paralegals or legal assistants under the supervision of a licensed attorney. Those who graduate are typically well-equipped to work in various legal settings where legal processes are required, including public service, governmental agencies, and the judicial system.

While many institutions offer associate degrees in paralegal studies, students, especially international students, tend to start at community colleges, such as Anne Arundel Community College. Community colleges usually provide more opportunities to take classes at a more affordable rate. Moreover, individuals taking community college classes can typically transfer the credits earned to a four-year college or university.

Bachelor's Degrees

A bachelor's degree in paralegal studies is a four-year program that provides a comprehensive understanding of the paralegal's role and specific insights into various areas of the law. Students also develop solid legal research and writing skills during their studies, providing them with a broader knowledge base. This can lead to more job options, better pay, and career longevity.  

While paralegal studies programs are designed specifically for prospective paralegals, they can also lead to other careers related to the law, such as a legal staffing recruiter, contracts administrator, or legal researcher. This program's typical courses include legal ethics and theory, constitutional law, litigation, dispute resolution, negotiation fundamentals, criminal justice, social science, business administration, and torts.

Graduate-Level Education

For those looking to pursue a more advanced degree, obtaining a Master of Legal Studies (MLS) is a great option. An MLS degree is known to help individuals strengthen their legal foundation and basic legal concepts. In addition, while MLS students come from various backgrounds, they often share the goal of obtaining familiarity with the law and exploring targeted fields of work or study. 

When a person pursues a Master of Legal Studies degree, they have the option of tailoring their degree to their specific interests, which means they can take classes in the following areas:

  • Conflict resolutions

  • Business law

  • Construction law

  • Criminal law

  • Health care law and compliance

  • Indian gaming

  • Intellectual property law

  • Sports law

  • Legal paraprofessional

  • Law and sustainability

It is important to understand that obtaining a Master of Legal Studies degree differs from earning a Juris Doctorate (JD) degree. While a JD degree is necessary to practice law, an MLS degree helps individuals better understand fundamental legal concepts that can be applied to various legal careers. It is also critical to note that an MLS degree does not qualify individuals to practice law, and the courses taken in an MLS program cannot be transferred to a Juris Doctor program. However, an MLS program can provide individuals with knowledge of legal concepts, which can benefit their careers.

If you would like more information about MLS degrees, please check out the following institutions: Arizona State University and the University of Miami.  

Certificates and Non-Degree Programs

Legal certificate programs offer specialized education and training in different areas of law. They can improve a person’s legal understanding and increase their chances of finding a position in a specific legal field.

Obtaining a legal certificate can also help individuals progress in their legal careers by showcasing their skills and knowledge to potential law firms, lawyers, and other employers. Furthermore, legal certificates can give a person an advantage in the job market. Law firms and other legal organizations often prefer candidates who have completed specialized legal training and obtained education in a field related to the legal industry, as it demonstrates their commitment to the field and their willingness to go beyond the minimum requirements. Moreover, legal certificates can help individuals stand out from the competition, especially those with similar qualifications. Still, they may need to gain the specialized knowledge and skills that a person acquired when they obtained a certificate.

However, before choosing a legal certificate program, individuals must consider their overall interests, goals, budget, and experience and look for programs that offer training in areas that will benefit them, such as family law, criminal law, or corporate law. Some universities that offer legal certificate programs include Texas A&M University and Northwestern University. While the specifics of each program will depend on the organization, in general, these programs focus on training in numerous legal fields.  

Is a Paralegal Certificate the Same Thing as a Paralegal Certification

It is crucial to differentiate between a paralegal certificate and a paralegal certification, as these terms are not interchangeable and have separate meanings.

A paralegal studies certificate is usually offered after completing a bachelor’s degree in another area and may be referred to as a graduate certificate. This certificate indicates that a student has taken legal specialty courses in addition to other general education courses. In comparison, paralegal certification is awarded when a paralegal has completed a certification exam and meets other requirements of the certifying organization. This certification formally recognizes that the paralegal meets established requirements and can use the special designation of “certified paralegal.”

Two national paralegal organizations that provide these certifications include NALA, The Paralegal Association, and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. (NFPA). However, the criteria for each examination will vary, so it is important to visit each association site to learn more about certification.

Choosing the Right Paralegal Education Path

While the paralegal profession does not have specific degree requirements, employers highly recommend formal education in a field related to the profession. Thankfully, there are several educational paths that individuals can choose from when pursuing a paralegal career, including associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, certificates, or even certifications.

However, several factors need to be taken into account before deciding on a particular educational path. These include a person's career aspirations, the amount of time they are willing to commit, the financial implications involved, and whether they are a working professional or an international student. Choosing programs accredited by national associations such as the American Bar Association (ABA) or NALA is also advisable.

Beyond Academics: Real-World Application and Career Preparation

Aspiring paralegals need practical experience and formal education to help them get ahead in the professional world. Fortunately, internship opportunities are available through many paralegal programs, providing on-the-job training and valuable professional connections. Individuals can also gain practical experience by working as a legal secretary or administrative assistant in a law firm. This hands-on exposure to the legal industry can help paralegals and those looking to work in the legal field develop essential skills like legal research and document drafting, and it also provides an opportunity to network with legal professionals. Some law firms may even offer training programs for individuals seeking a career as a paralegal.

Another way to gain practical experience is volunteering at legal clinics, pro bono organizations, or other community organizations. This can provide an opportunity to make a difference in people's lives while demonstrating an individual’s commitment to the field, allowing them to stand out to potential employers.

Gaining practical experience in addition to formal education can set people apart in the job market and provide valuable skills and connections for a successful paralegal career. For further information regarding this training, it may be beneficial to talk to program directors, a career services office at a college or university, or paralegal associations such as the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. to get the assistance needed to transition from student life to a legal professional role.

Financial Aid and Resources for Paralegal Students

With the rising cost of higher education, students pursuing a degree or certificate in paralegal studies will typically look for financial aid options to make schooling more affordable. Thankfully, various financial aid options are available for paralegal students to help them with these costs, including Parent Plus Loans, Federal Pell Grants, and other federal loans. In addition, depending on the institution a student attends, there may also be financial aid packages that can offer at least some tuition assistance.

However, to take advantage of available financial aid resources, it is crucial to act promptly and begin the financial application process as soon as possible. Additionally, if your school has financial aid advisors, schedule a meeting to discuss your options. These steps allow you to obtain the necessary financial assistance to avoid accumulating large student loan debt unnecessarily.

The Future of Paralegal Studies and Careers

The legal industry is currently undergoing a transformation fueled by technological innovations. These advancements offer increased capabilities and insights, such as artificial intelligence, cloud-based platforms, process automation, and predictive analytics. While the complete impact of these technologies on attorneys is still unclear, one role that these advancements have already changed is that of the paralegal.

As technology continues to handle significantly more legal tasks, the paralegal's role is changing, becoming more specialized, technical, and strategic. As a result, the skills most valued by lawyers today emphasize the ability to leverage technology and use it across workflows. That is why those wanting to become a paralegal must embrace legal tech rather than turn away from it. They will want to build skills in relevant areas and learn how to work alongside this technology in a way that can benefit their roles in the legal field. Some paralegals may even take on a hybrid paralegal position that blends legal tasks with tech solutions.

However, the overall job outlook for paralegals remains strong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that the demand for paralegals and legal assistants is expected to increase by 4% from 2022 to 2032. Additionally, there will be about 38,000 job openings for paralegals and legal assistants yearly over the next decade.

Explore Paralegal Study Programs and Find the Right Path For You

Paralegals are highly valued in the legal industry as they assist legal professionals with various tasks, including legal research, case management, document preparation, and other substantive legal duties. Consequently, proper training and education are crucial for paralegals, especially if they want to obtain fulfilling and rewarding careers across various legal fields, not just in law firms but also in corporations and governmental agencies.

Fortunately, paralegal study programs offer individuals interested in becoming paralegals the necessary education and training to work in diverse legal environments. These programs also provide an opportunity to specialize in various areas of law, such as family law, criminal law, or intellectual property law.

If you want to understand how paralegal studies can benefit your legal career, consider visiting colleges and universities for more information or requesting details from educational institutions. It may also be helpful to seek guidance and networking opportunities from paralegal associations.

About the Authors

Written by:

Kasia Nelson, Esq.

Kasia Nelson is a licensed attorney and skilled legal content writer with years of experience. With a background in corporate immigration law, she is well-versed in the intricacies of producing legally accurate and well-researched work. 


  • Michigan State University, B.S.

  • Western Michigan University – Cooley Law School, J.D.

Law Licensures

  • Michigan

Kasia Nelson

Kasia Nelson, Esq.


Education: Western Michigan University – Cooley Law School, J.D.

Knowledge: Corporate Immigration Law

Reviewed by:

Ryan P. Duffy, Esq.

Ryan P. Duffy is an attorney licensed to practice law in New Jersey, North Carolina, and South Carolina. His practice focuses primarily on Estate Planning, Personal Injury, and Business law. 

Law Licensures

  • New Jersey

  • Pennsylvania (inactive)

  • South Carolina

  • North Carolina

Ryan Duffy

Ryan P. Duffy, Esq.

Editorial Lead

Education: Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, J.D.

Knowledge: Estate Planning