Last Updated: March 1, 2017
Are you a compulsive ‘Law and Order’ watcher or a ‘Serial’ listener? Are you a detail-oriented person who finds the process of research and uncovering the facts of a legal case fascinating? Are you interested in working as a support professional in the legal system?
If the answer to all of these questions is “yes,” then a career as a paralegal may be right for you.
Paralegals work to support attorneys in law firms and government offices, performing a wide range of services to help lawyers prepare for trials and hearings. As a paralegal, your day-to-day duties may include obtaining affidavits and evidence to be used in court, researching case law, filing exhibits, and reading trial transcripts.
You will also be responsible for client record-keeping, legal documentation, scheduling, and other administrative needs.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the usual work of paralegals might include any or all of the following:
- Investigate and gather the facts of a case
- Conduct research on relevant laws, regulations, and legal articles
- Organize and maintain documents in paper or electronic filing systems
- Gather and arrange evidence and other legal documents for attorney review and case preparation
- Write or summarize reports to help lawyers prepare for trials
- Draft correspondence and legal documents, such as contracts and mortgages
- Get affidavits and other formal statements that may be used as evidence in court
- Help lawyers during trials by handling exhibits, taking notes, or reviewing trial transcripts
- File exhibits, briefs, appeals and other legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Call clients, witnesses, lawyers, and outside vendors to schedule interviews, meetings, and depositions
Not only is this an exciting career, it’s also one that is increasingly in demand. Law firms and corporate legal departments are relying more heavily on paralegals, as cost-savings measures, to perform tasks once routinely handled by attorneys.
Job rewards and satisfaction for paralegals include excellent salaries and benefits with opportunities for bonuses and advancements, recognition for contributions to case resolutions, meaningful work helping clients, and challenging and interesting work in a professional environment surrounded by talented colleagues.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics also notes that almost 280,000 paralegals and legal assistants are working in the US. The pay is competitive, especially compared with other jobs that require an associate’s degree or certificate, with an average salary of $49,000 a year.
We’ve ranked the 25 best online paralegal programs in the US, most of which are certificate programs for students who already have achieved a college degree and are looking for a career change. However, some of these schools also have associate’s or bachelor’s degree options for those who are just starting their educational journey.
As you search for programs, bear in mind that state certification requirements exist in some jurisdictions, and graduates of online programs may need additional work experience to gain state certification as a paralegal.
College Choice Score: 100
Duke University is well-known for its law school, but did you know it also offers a certificate program designed for students who are seeking a career change? The Duke Online Paralegal Program is a 300-hour course of study designed to train students in the skill sets of the profession that are most in demand and most desired by attorneys. This certificate program is offered entirely online, as a self-paced program, with no defined due dates or deadlines. Once you begin the program, you work on your own and have one year to complete the coursework. And all students who have at least a two-year associate degree are eligible to apply.
The Global Online Paralegal program at Duke offers the convenience of an entirely web-based curriculum, but it also has the advantage of offering students one-on-one contact with an instructor who is a licensed attorney. Students move at their own pace through comprehensive materials with layers of educational support including texts, chapter notes, trial tests, mock exams, and legal documents templates. Your assigned instructor will grade exams, evaluate and provide feedback on assignments, and track student progress. As each segment of the course is completed, you will take, and pass, an online exam in order to continue. The online Writing Lab included in the program contains step-by-step instructions for preparing documents specific to the United States at both the state and federal court level. As a result, the skills learned are not limited to North Carolina courts and are transferable throughout the United States. Instructors will provide additional state-specific guidance as needed. This personalized element is unique to the Duke program and helps students stay motivated and on-track. Duke University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
College Choice Score: 92.4
If you hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, you’re eligible to apply for the online paralegal certificate program offered by the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies at Rice University. Located in Houston, Rice is one of the preeminent national research universities and is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 by U.S. News & World Report. Students in this online paralegal certification program attend regularly scheduled classes with live instruction, as well as using online study tools such as practice exercise questions, lecture notes, quizzes and mock exams. Students will have access to LexisNexis and Westlaw accounts. No matter where you live or plan to practice, the online paralegal certification program provides access to legal research and writing labs for all 50 states, as well as all U.S Territories, something no other program offers. In addition, the program trains students in skills that are transferable to any law firm in any city and state.
As the program website explains, you’ll learn skills including, but not limited to, the following areas of paralegal practice:
- Researching legal issues
- Investigating facts
- Drafting documents
- Interviewing attending corporate transactions, depositions, hearings and trials
As an experienced paralegal, you can perform almost any task an attorney performs except for giving legal advice to others or representing clients in a court of law. While most paralegals work in the litigation field, Rice graduates have also found jobs in the following areas:
- Real estate
- Oil and gas
Regardless of their specialty, Rice graduates have been embraced by the legal community and, in many cases, they return to recruit and hire others as new classes complete the program. The program also includes assistance with resume preparation and interview skills as you get ready to graduate. Rice University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
James Madison University
College Choice Score: 88.0
Based at one of the leading schools in the suburban Washington D.C. area, James Madison University’s Certificate in Paralegal Studies offers both a convenient format and a sterling reputation. Students who hold either a 4-year undergraduate degree or the equivalent of four years professional work experience in any field are eligible to apply. Online class sessions for the certificate are held on evenings and weekends, and coursework is delivered as a balance of self-paced and live, instructor-led training in an online environment during the five-month online program. The required, instructor-led sessions meet online in 2 hour sessions twice a week, where you will have the chance to interact with your instructors and your fellow students online.
In this rigorous online program, you will learn essential paralegal skills including investigating complex fact patterns, conducting legal research, and assisting in preparing cases for courtroom litigation. Over the course of 60 classroom hours, you will master the theoretical and practical sides of the law as you gain an advanced understanding of legal procedure, ethics, and substantive law as well as research, communication, and writing skills. Most importantly, what you learn can be used in a law office as well as many other fields like real estate, social services, and government. This certificate program can prepare you for a legal career as well as for jobs beyond the court system. James Madison University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
University of California Berkeley Extension
College Choice Score: 84.8
If you have a high school diploma or equivalent, access to a computer that can connect to the Internet and basic word-processing and Web-search skills, you’re eligible to apply for the online paralegal certificate program at the University of California Berkeley Extension. Designed by paralegals and taught by practicing attorneys approved by the University, the Certificate Program in Paralegal Studies offers the skills and knowledge you need to become a practicing paralegal. In six months, you can complete the curriculum and take the next step in your career. This program offers two convenient learning formats that enable you to continue working while you complete the certificate. One allows you to proceed at your own pace with an online curriculum that you can enroll in and begin anytime. Or, if you are in the Bay Area, you can choose a hybrid learning format that combines classroom and online study.
The online program follows the same requirements for completion as the hybrid program, with the added benefit of allowing you to begin and proceed at your own pace. The dynamic educational experience provides online study support including exercises, lecture notes, perspectives, mock exams, and research and writing labs. The result is a course merging the interactive, user-driven aspects of the Internet with the same information that would be obtained in a traditional, instructor-guided classroom setting. Online exams act as benchmarks, and you are only able to proceed through the program once an exam is passed. In addition, you will be required to take a comprehensive final written exam. The University of California Berkeley Extension is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
University of California at Los Angeles
College Choice Score: 81.5
Another campus of the University of California system that offers a paralegal training program is the University of California at Los Angeles. As the program website states, UCLA’s paralegal program prepares students to function as ethical, effective, and efficient professional paralegals in law firms, businesses, government, and nonprofit organizations; to perform a wide variety of legal work under the supervision of attorneys; and to adapt easily to the changing role of the paralegal as well as the changing needs of the legal community. The UCLA PTP provides training in substantive and procedural law, legal analysis, professional responsibility, legal forms, legal technology, and practical skills needed to work in the public or private sector as a competent and professional paralegal. This program fulfills the educational requirements to practice as a paralegal in the state of California. Instructors for the program are approved by the UCLA School of Law, and include practicing judges, attorneys, paralegals, and other legal professionals.
The objectives of the UCLA program are as follows:
- To provide candidates with high quality-ABA approved instruction with an emphasis on substantive and procedural law, legal analysis, and practical paralegal skills from a variety of legal professionals including judges, attorneys, and paralegals;
- To develop in candidates a practical understanding of the role, function, and ethical responsibilities of paralegals in various legal environments;
- To provide candidates and graduates with guidance and tools for successful career planning and professional development in the legal profession.
This program is organized as a single 36 unit course with multiple modules. Students are assessed through a variety of methods including quizzes, assignments, and group projects in each module. The University of California at Los Angeles is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
College Choice Score: 79.0
While many of the programs on this list offer a non-degree certificate to students who have already attained a prerequisite level of educational achievement, Drury University offers a program in paralegal studies that leads to a degree. The associate of science in paralegal studies program at Drury is designed to give students a mastery of the essential principles, doctrines, rules, and structural elements of the American legal system and the practice of law.
This 21 credit hour major provides a strong basis for paralegals seeking employment in a wide variety of legal practices. Required courses for the degree include:
- Introduction to Law and Legal Reasoning
- Legal Research and Writing
- Interviewing and Investigating
- Tort Law
- Family Law
- Professional Practicum
As part of your degree, you’ll also complete the Legal Practicum, an unpaid internship with a practicing attorney. In the course of your internship, you’ll learn the practical application of the legal concepts you’ve learned in class through experience in the real practice of law.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
College Choice Score: 77.2
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded in 1795, is one of oldest and most highly-regarded public universities in the country. As part of its continuing education programs, UNC-Chapel Hill offers a Paralegal Certificate Program that is distinguished by a focus on comprehensive legal specific skills such as investigating fact patterns, conducting law-related research, and preparing cases for courtroom litigation. Whether you’re looking to change careers or to advance a legal career, this program may be right for you. The education and skills training you receive in the paralegal certificate program can be used in a law office or in many other fields such as real estate, social services, and government.
UNC’s online paralegal certificate is intended for a variety of learners and career objectives, including:
- Legal assistants and staff wishing to enhance or advance their careers by earning a professional credential
- Career changers seeking a professional career with strong compensation
- Students considering law school who want to get a head start in the field
In the online version of the course, all class materials and e-textbooks are hosted in an internet-accessible platform. The program is divided into six course topics, along with two career preparation seminars, for a total of over 120 hours of coursework. Each course topic focuses on subjects that are critical to your legal education, and each is supplemented with online audio and video material. Over the course of the program, you’ll attend 6 hours of online classes each week, and can expect to spend a minimum of two hours outside of class for each hour in class for required reading and assignment completion. Along with the online program, UNC also offers a highly-regarded in-class paralegal certificate option. Students who are residents of North Carolina who wish to become a certified paralegal in the state, and hope to sit for the NC paralegal certification exam should opt for the classroom program. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
College Choice Score: 76.1
Located in the Tidewater area of Virginia, Hampton University is one of the pre-eminent historically black colleges and universities in the United States. From its beginnings after the Civil War, Hampton has counted many illustrious community leaders among its graduates, including Booker T. Washington. As part of its extensive online offerings, Hampton gives students across the country the chance to achieve a Certificate in Paralegal Studies. This online program is designed to prepare you for work in the legal profession as a paralegal under the supervision of an attorney either in public or private practice, corporate or governmental law and other judicial agencies. Completion of this Certificate Program will qualify you for immediate employment.
If you’d rather go for a bachelor’s degree, however, any academic credits earned with a grade of “C” or better in the certificate may be transferred to the Bachelor of Arts degree program in Paralegal Studies. Students who enroll in two courses during each nine-week session may complete the certificate requirements in one academic year. Courses for the certificate include:
- Law In Society
- Legal Research
- Legal Writing
- Torts and Personal Injury
- Criminal Law
- Business Organizations
- Litigation and Trial Practice
- Real Estate
- Domestic Relations
Regardless of whether you choose the certificate or the degree, you’ll be prepared for a challenging and rewarding career as a paralegal professional. Hampton University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
College Choice Score: 75.0
While many of the schools we’ve ranked so far are large national universities, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is different: a liberal arts institution dedicated to both faithfulness to Catholic values and excellence in academics. As the college’s website states, “with an emphasis on the positive power of Providence, SMWC is a community of faith and scholarship. Our unique educational philosophy stresses an exploration of spirituality, a respect for diversity, a passion for stewardship and, as our college motto, “Virtus cum Scientia” (Virtue and Knowledge United) states, a devotion to the unity of faith and reason.” And along with their liberal arts programs, SMWC also offers preparation for paralegal careers at multiple levels. You can choose from a certificate, associate’s degree, or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies.
Students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree can opt for the 32-hour certificate program, with coursework that includes the following:
- Introduction to the Profession
- Theories of Liability
- Civil Litigation
- English Composition
- Computer Basics in Law
- Law, Ethics, and Society
- Legal Research
- Commercial Transactions
- Advanced Legal Research and Writing
- Legal Practicum
Meanwhile, the associate’s degree in paralegal studies requires the completion of 39 credit hours of subject-specific coursework, in addition to core general studies requirements. For students starting their educational journey and seeking a bachelor’s degree, the paralegal studies program provides professional education within the context of the liberal arts, with a primary focus on the study of law in its relation to politics, society, and history. This program goes beyond what constitutes law to explore the mutual impacts of law and society, as well as the political influences, historical patterns, and economic relations and the moral, philosophical and ethical foundations and implications of law. Located in Indiana, St. Mary-of-the-Woods College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
College Choice Score: 69.6
In addition to its prestigious on-campus programs, Boston University is also committed to offering accessible distance learning programs that encourage professional development and meet exacting standards of academic excellence. As part of that goal, BU offers a fully online Paralegal Studies Certificate program — a focused, convenient way to develop the skills necessary to excel as a paralegal and gain a competitive edge in your career. The program combines academic rigor with the convenience of online learning, and features a curriculum that’s both comprehensive and flexible. Consisting of modules that explore everything from the technology and tools used by paralegals in the field to the nuances of popular areas of law, the program offers aspiring paralegals the chance to develop the specific professional skills that employers are currently seeking. Those already in the field can also benefit by learning new foundational legal knowledge, further developing their research and writing skills.
Features of Boston University’s program include:
- Interaction with BU faculty—each of them practicing attorneys who bring their expertise into the classroom
- An all-inclusive, affordable price
- An intensive course of study that can be completed in 14 weeks
- A unique technology module that provides hands-on experience in the latest software utilized by paralegals
- Access to a community of peers in the field to help students expand their professional network
- The ability to complete coursework from anywhere in a convenient online format
The online Paralegal Studies Certificate Program is also designed to provide a valuable professional certificate and comprehensive coursework at an affordable cost. The program doesn’t require textbooks, and the flat program rate also includes access to the WestlawNext database. Boston University is regionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
University of Miami
College Choice Score: 68.5
The University of Miami also offers a paralegal certificate program in an intensive, comprehensive format that focuses intensely on developing the skills needed to become a professional working paralegal. UM’s Paralegal Certificate Program is a non-credit certificate program offered in multiple formats: as a four month course on the Coral Gables campus or in Ft. Lauderdale, or delivered entirely online. The online certificate is designed to provide the same educational experience and training as the renowned in-class version of the program. Classes are delivered through the a study support website that includes lecture notes, exercises, mock exams, writing and research labs on demand, and Westlaw and LexisNexis labs. This enables students to study at their own pace and gives them 6 months to complete the course. The flat tuition rate for the online course includes all required books and technology fees.
Over the course of this comprehensive, six-month program, students learn to master a number of professional paralegal skills including the following:
- Legal Analysis
- Legal Memorandum Writing
- Florida State Specific Instruction
- Federal Court Structure
- Stages of Litigation
- Government Structure
- Ethical Considerations
- Court Rules
- Discovery Preparation
- Discovery Coordination
- Pleading Preparation
- Utilization of Legal Forms
- Preparing for Depositions
- Deposition Digesting
- The Arbitration Process
- Interviewing Clients
- Law Office Investigation
- Interviewing Witnesses
- Bluebook Citation Form
- Informal Advocacy
- Strategies for Employment
- Resume Preparation
- Specific Substantive Skills
- Legal Research Skills
Due to a special relationship between the University of Miami Paralegal Studies Program and LexisNexis, enrolled students will be trained in and have access to LexisNexis Online Legal Research for one year. The University of Miami is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
George Washington University
College Choice Score: 65.2
Conducted in association with George Washington University’s Law School, the paralegal education program at GWU includes several options for advanced master’s degrees as well as a post-graduate certificate program. The graduate certificate is offered as a six-course sequence that begins each fall and that offers the knowledge and skills that law firms, government agencies, and corporations seek in their paralegals. Applicants for the certificate must hold a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited institution of higher learning or international equivalent.
The course sequence for the certificate includes 18 credit hours and consists of the following classes:
- American Jurisprudence
- Legal Research and Writing
- Advanced Legal Writing
- Business Entities
GWU also features a unique Paralegal Studies/Healthcare Corporate Compliance program that allows paralegal students to enroll in the master of paralegal studies program and the healthcare corporate compliance program concurrently and receive both credentials: a master’s degree in paralegal studies plus a graduate certificate in healthcare corporate compliance. If you’re interested in an advanced career in healthcare compliance, this program may be right for you. George Washington University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
University of Georgia
College Choice Score: 63
The paralegal certificate program at the University of Georgia is the product of a collaborative effort between the Center for Continuing Education and the Center for Legal Studies. In this 14-week online program, students will learn practice-oriented skills that relate closely to the areas of law in which paralegals are in most demand. You’ll be trained to interview witnesses, investigate complex fact patterns, research the law, prepare legal documents, and assist in preparing cases for courtroom litigation. For students who are just starting their careers, an introductory paralegal certificate is the first step to a new job. But Georgia also offers advanced certificate programs for current paralegals looking to improve their own knowledge base as well as the productivity of their office. You can opt for a general advanced paralegal certificate, or you can specialize in either immigration law or trademark and copyright law.
Coursework for the introductory paralegal certificate includes the following areas of focus:
- Legal terminology, ethics, and the litigation process
- Rules of evidence and civil procedure
- Interviewing and investigation techniques and the development and use of demonstrative evidence
- Preparation of discovery matter, such as Interrogatories, Requests for Admissions, and Requests for Production of Documents.
- How to identify relevant law
- Research skills and techniques for use in legal memoranda, motions, and briefs
- Preparation of legal documents
- Preparation and critique of legal memoranda
With its combination of affordability and comprehensive learning options for beginning and advanced students alike, the University of Georgia may be the right choice to begin or continue your journey in the legal profession. The University of Georgia is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
William Woods University
College Choice Score: 56.5
While most of the programs we’ve ranked offer a shorter postgraduate certificate, Missouri’s William Woods University is a liberal arts college that offers an online B.S. in Paralegal Studies degree consists of 42 semester hours in a 14-course sequence. Coursework focuses on the application of substantive and procedural law to legal fact patterns that professionals would encounter in the legal environment. The program strives to build a core of legal knowledge and critical thinking skills, as well as an understanding of professional ethics, communication, and interpersonal skills. These all serve to enhance your ability to function as an effective professional in the legal environment.
William Woods has been teaching paralegal studies by distance education for 40 years, so they have experience in providing a top-notch education to their online students. As a part of William Woods online Bachelor’s in Paralegal Studies, you’ll study topics like:
- Substantive and procedural law
- American legal system
- Delivery of legal services
- Legal research and writing
- Law-related computer skills
- Legal interviewing and investigation
Throughout the program, you’ll take part in a rigorous and challenging curriculum taught by experienced faculty. You’ll have the opportunity to collaborate online with your peers, sharing what you have learned and honing techniques and skills that you will apply in the workplace after graduation. Finally, you will gain hands-on experience as a paralegal through the program’s Virtual Law Office Practicum requirement. William Woods University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
University of San Diego
College Choice Score: 55.4
If you already hold an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree, you’re qualified to apply for the University of San Diego’s postgraduate paralegal certificate program. This program, which can be completed in one or two terms, is designed to familiarize students with basic legal concepts and terminology, the elements of legal research, our court structure, computer software use in the law office, and legal ethics. Alongside this generalized background, students also receive instruction in substantive areas of law. After completing four core courses and four electives, you’ll be well prepared to assist in the effective delivery of legal services in both the private and public sectors of our society.
The core requirements for the certificate include classes in legal research and writing, the role of computers in the legal field, and civil litigation. Then, students choose from a number of electives such as:
- Introduction to Business Entities
- Administrative Law
- Intellectual Property
- Employment and Labor Law
- Estates, Wills, and Trusts
- Criminal Law
- Family Law
- Real Estate
Regardless of your chosen areas of specialization, you will be prepared to work as part of an efficient legal team, ensuring the professional representation of your clients and reducing the cost of legal services. The University of San Diego is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Loyola University Chicago
College Choice Score: 52.2
The Institute for Paralegal Studies at Loyola University of Chicago offers a comprehensive set of programs for career preparation at all levels, including both a BA in paralegal studies and a number of certificates for college graduates. Loyola’s paralegal curriculum is distinguished by its breadth and depth. In addition to legal knowledge, Institute courses emphasize the technological skills required in today’s law offices, including the extensive use of online resources and several popular software programs. Along with the bachelor’s degree, students who already hold a degree may earn several certificates including:
- Corporate Practice Certificate in Paralegal Studies
- Litigation Practice Certificate in Paralegal Studies
- Litigation and Corporate Practice Certificate
- Custom-designed Specialty Certificate in Paralegal Studies (with faculty approval)
In each certificate program, electives give students the opportunity to explore various topics including Intellectual Property (two courses), Immigration Law, Environmental Law, Employment Law, and Estates, Trusts and Wills.
According to the program website, each of the paralegal studies programs at Loyola University of Chicago share a number of common goals including the following:
- Students will develop an understanding of the law, the legal and paralegal professions, and the legal process, including the use of technology, appropriate to their expected role in the legal community.
- Students will acquire practical, technical skills as well as basic knowledge of legal theory, and specialized competency in at least one area of concentration.
- Students will demonstrate competence in legal research and writing, problem analysis, and critical thinking.
- Students will display an awareness of ethical, moral, and social issues that contain legal implications, as well as knowledge of the standards of conduct expected of the legal community.
- Faculty and staff will be committed not only to quality education but also to the promotion of paralegals as essential members of the legal community.
Loyola University Chicago is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
University of Great Falls
College Choice Score: 48.9
The University of Great Falls is a Catholic liberal arts college that was founded through the collaborative efforts of the Sisters of Providence, the Ursuline Sisters, the Catholic Bishop of Great Falls and the civic community, all of whom recognized the need for and importance of higher education in Montana. Its educational mission, sponsored by the Sisters of Providence, is a shared endeavor in which faculty and staff of the University join with students in a cooperative and enthusiastic search for truth and to develop character, competence, and commitment as people who have a positive impact on the world. In addition to the liberal arts programs offered by the college, there are a few programs available through distance education, including both associate and bachelor of science degrees in paralegal studies.
The Paralegal Studies Program at the University of Great Falls not only prepares students to assume challenging paralegal positions, but also serves as a stepping stone for those who want to go to law school. The required legal specialty courses provide a balance between legal theory and practical application, while a number of optional legal electives allow students to pursue other areas of law which are of special interest to them. One unique aspect of the the University of Great Falls’ program is that it also provides paralegal training and certification for Army and Air Force personnel in the military court system. The University of Great Falls is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
Eastern Kentucky University
College Choice Score: 47.8
As you research your options for an online paralegal program, one thing to bear in mind is that the American Bar Association only approves programs with some aspect of in-person learning. While ABA approval isn’t needed for most paralegal jobs, it may be a requirement to achieve professional licensing in some states. Eastern Kentucky University’s hybrid paralegal program is a unique exception. In this partially online program, students have the flexibility to complete all but 10 credit hours of their program online. Then, the remaining 10 credit hours are earned in the form of an intensive two week on-campus residency. This unique combination of online coursework and in-person collaboration and networking will help you refine your skills and get a jump-start on your future.
While on campus, you’ll interact with your classmates, faculty, and working paralegals from various types of practice areas. The residency coursework covers legal research and writing, legal ethics, strategies for a successful paralegal job search, and additional substantive legal topics. If you choose to go on for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies, you may also be required to complete an internship at a location of your choice. Because EKU’s paralegal program is approved by the American Bar Association, those who successfully complete the program are qualified to sit for the Certified Kentucky Paralegal Exam. Eastern Kentucky University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
College Choice Score: 46.7
Duquesne University’s Paralegal Institute has prepared more than 1900 graduates for jobs in the legal field over the past 30 years, and today they offer an entry-level paralegal certificate along with advanced seminars for current professionals. The paralegal certificate begins with classes that introduce the legal system, paralegal practice, professional responsibility, research methods and legal writing. You’ll then choose from among 30 electives to round out your program. The range of elective options allows the Duquesne program to be personalized and tailored to each student’s interests, with topics that include securities law, environmental law, personal injury, wills and estates, and much more.
Regardless of which areas you decide to specialize in, by the time you graduate you will meet a core set of learning objectives. Recipients of the paralegal certificate will be able to:
- Understand the fundamentals of the legal system, its processes, and alternatives
- Consider complex and varying legal issues
- Understand the rules of professional conduct governing lawyers and their application to paralegals in all employment settings
- Develop analytical and judgment abilities and be capable of performing legal and factual research using both traditional and emerging technology tools
- Develop knowledge and understanding of substantive law and legal principles in one or more areas of practice
- Develop sound legal writing skills
- Apply knowledge management and organizational skills in the legal setting
The Duquesne Paralegal Institute also offers Continuing Professional Education (CPE) to those already practicing in the field. Some of these offerings follow the usual 11-week term schedule, while others are shorter in duration. More information about these special continuing education opportunities can be obtained from the Institute as the fall term approaches. Duquesne University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
College Choice Score: 44.6
New York’s Hofstra University offers a certificate program in paralegal studies for highly motivated individuals who intend to work in the public and private legal communities as effective and ethical paralegals. At all times, Hofstra students are taught to follow the ethical mandates of the paralegal profession and carry out their work with integrity. Program administrators and faculty serve as instructors and mentors to each certificate candidate, giving them personalized guidance on their career and educational prospects, support in voluntary internship activities, and instruction in unique and emerging areas of the law.
While some programs we ranked pay less attention to the specifics of state law, Hofstra trains its students in the substantive and procedural aspects of the legal system in New York. If you live in New York State or hope to move there soon to start work, Hofstra may be a better choice than other programs. In total, the certificate requires successful completion of ten required courses:
- Introduction to Law
- Legal Research and Writing
- Civil Litigation
- Real Estate
- Business Organizations
- Family Law
- Criminal Law
- Estates, Trusts and Wills
- Resume and Interviewing
Depending on your career goals, you may also choose to take an optional 11th class in Law Office Management. In addition to coursework, students also have the opportunity to participate in an optional internship program. These internships give students the opportunity to use the skills they have learned in the program, while also gaining valuable experience in a professional working environment. Hofstra University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
George Mason University
College Choice Score: 42.4
Like the University of Georgia, Virginia’s George Mason University has partnered with the Center for Legal Studies to offer a range of educational options for both beginning and advanced paralegal students. In the entry-level paralegal certificate program, students are trained to interview witnesses, investigate complex fact patterns, research the law, and assist attorneys in preparing cases for courtroom litigation. Throughout the course, the instruction is practice-oriented and focused on the areas of the law where legal assistants in high demand. Successful completion of the program requires a significant amount of homework for each session, and students must pass all course requirements to be awarded a certificate. Learning is evaluated by six quizzes and five legal document-writing assignments. The latter includes, but is not limited to, creating an interoffice memo, preparing a cover and resume for instructor critique, drafting a motion, and preparing an answer to a complaint served to you by a fellow classmate.
Practicing paralegals who want to gain specialized skills in a particular area of the law or in office administration may also find a program at George Mason that’s right for them. The options for advanced paralegal certificate programs include:
- Personal Injury for Paralegals Certificate
- Advanced Legal Research and Writing
- Legal Investigation Certificate
- Software Essentials for Law Offices Certificate
These programs are shorter in duration, usually lasting about six weeks, so you can add to your knowledge and skills in the field without making a lengthy and disruptive time commitment. George Mason University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Illinois State University
College Choice Score: 40.2
The Legal Studies program at Illinois State University has existed since 1975, and has since graduated over 350 students. The program is a member in good standing of the American Association for Paralegal Education, and while there are no licensing or mandatory certification requirements for paralegals, the National Association of Legal Assistants operates a voluntary certification program for legal assistants. Successful completion of Illinois State’s Legal Studies program meets the educational part of the requirements for the NALA certification exam. Upon completion of the certificate, students will be ready to embark on a career as a paralegal in public and private law offices, corporate law departments, and government agencies.
- Develop critical thinking skills
- Foster general communications skills
- Acquire legal research skills
- Develop legal writing skills
- Improve and enhance computer skills in a legal setting
- Develop interviewing and investigation skills
- Learn and understand the paralegal profession and ethical obligations
- Acquire law office management skills
Required coursework includes two courses each in legal research and litigation, followed by nine semester hours of electives selected from among the following paralegal specialty courses:
- Introduction to Torts
- Investigative Techniques & Evidence
- Probate Law
- Domestic Relations & Family Law
- Criminal Litigation
- Employment Law
- Paralegal Internship
Up to six semester hours of an internship at an approved location can be applied to the nine hour elective requirement, but no more than fifteen internship hours can be counted towards graduation. Illinois State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
College Choice Score: 35.4
Regent University, located in Virginia Beach, VA, is an evangelical Christian university that offers an online bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies among their many online programs. You can receive your paraprofessional training in law through an online degree program that is uniquely affiliated with an ABA-approved law school. Regent University’s bachelor of science in paralegal studies, offered entirely online, is supported by Regent’s School of Law. Along with required coursework in Christian moral foundations, you’ll gain research, communication, organization and technology skills to help you pursue a meaningful career in the legal field. After graduation, you’ll become an indispensable member of a legal team in a law office, governmental unit or other law-practice setting.
- Learn legal terminology and research and writing skills as you practice drafting motions, briefs, pleadings and other documents
- Cultivate best practices for interviewing clients and witnesses and managing case files
- Gain an overview of the most common practice areas of law, including marriage & family, real estate, personal injury, and contracts
- Develop clerical and management skills critical to law firms, such as fee arrangements, time tracking, basic accounting, and records management.
Job titles held by Regent graduates include Legal Assistant, Legal Aid Advocate, Clerk of Court, Administrative Assistant in Court, or Litigation Support Analyst. Whether you choose the corporate, government, or nonprofit sector, you’ll be ready to meet the professional challenges that lie ahead. Regent University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
College Choice Score: 35.0
From its modest beginnings as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971, Liberty University has grown its programs and expanded its reach to become the world’s largest Christian university and the fifth largest university of any kind in the United States. Much of that growth has come about due to its commitment to online education. And, among its many other online programs, Liberty offers both an associate of arts and a bachelor of science degree in paralegal studies. Generous transfer policies – including the possibility of transfer credit for work experience or for military training – mean you could be finished in a much shorter time frame than traditional degree programs.
Liberty University’s associate’s degree in paralegal studies will equip you with the practical skills and knowledge you need to succeed in this growing career field. Courses for this program are developed and taught by practicing lawyers who know firsthand the qualifications needed for a successful career. As a student of this program, you’ll study topics including the foundations of law, how to perform title searches and write depositions, and how to conduct real estate transactions. You will also learn to identify, analyze and appropriately deal with ethical dilemmas from a moral and religious perspective, using your critical thinking and problem-solving skills to solve difficult and sensitive problems. With the associate’s degree, you can start working as a paralegal immediately – or you can seamlessly transition into the bachelor’s degree program, earning two degrees in the time it usually takes to earn one. Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Northwestern State University of Louisiana
College Choice Score: 30.0
If you’re looking for a comprehensive online bachelor’s degree that will prepare you for a career as a paralegal in the criminal courts or serve as the first step to law school, Northwestern State University of Louisiana may be right for you. NSU’s Global Campus offers an online bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice with a pre-law and paralegal studies focus. This program functions as a seven-course, 21-hour focused concentration of study within the B.A. degree in criminal justice, giving students a well-rounded liberal arts education with a legal focus of study. With its significant coursework in criminology, psychology, and political science, the NSU degree would be ideal for a student who hopes to work as a paralegal or private investigator in a prosecutor’s office or criminal defense practice.
Along with your core liberal arts and science requirements and general criminal justice classes, you’ll take five required courses for the concentration:
- Legal Research
- Estates, Trusts, and Wills
- Family Law
Then, you’ll have the opportunity to choose two additional courses from list of electives including:
- Introduction to the Law
- Real Estate and Mortgages
- Law Office Administration
NSU also offers reduced fees for public safety personnel seeking the criminal justice degree, including police officers, firefighters, and EMS technicians. Northwestern State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.