Paralegal certificate holders enjoy exciting career opportunities in law. Individuals with excellent communication skills, analytical and critical thinking abilities, and a knack for research excel in this fast-growing profession.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects about 39,000 new paralegal jobs between 2018 and 2028. With education and experience, many paralegals gain greater job autonomy and specialize in an area of law that interests them.
Aspiring paralegals can explore online paralegal certificates, paralegal training schools, or degree programs. Many professionals pursue certificate programs for paralegals because they provide a career-focused curriculum, requiring only a few months to complete. To meet entry-level career requirements, those with a degree in another discipline often find the best online certificate programs for paralegals. Certificate programs may offer self-paced courses, allowing enrollees to study when their schedule allows.
Because paralegals work under the supervision of an attorney, these legal professionals may only need state registration or voluntary certification. Some states allow paralegals to provide some independent services with an appropriate license. Licensing often requires more extensive education, however.
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What does a paralegal do?
Paralegals work under the direction of an attorney to research legal questions, prepare or organize documents, file court briefs and documents, take notes, or call clients and witnesses. They help organize evidence for court proceedings and track electronic communication. They may also handle tracking an attorney’s time on a case for billing purposes and manage electronic filing systems.
Do you need a bachelor’s degree to be a paralegal?
Specific educational requirements vary by employer, but certification programs for paralegals prepare students to perform essential tasks like electronic research and legal writing. Bachelor’s degrees may enhance an applicant’s resume with general education courses.
Do you need a certificate to be a paralegal?
No, but many employers consider a certificate the minimum education acceptable for employment. These career-focused programs ensure paralegals require minimum on-the-job training and can navigate the court system effectively and efficiently.
How many years does it take to become a paralegal?
Completing an online certificate in paralegal studies can take a few weeks to several months. Most programs require less than one year to graduate.
Accreditation for Paralegal Certificate Programs
Your education represents an investment of your time, money, and resources. Attending an accredited school ensures that the institution has met benchmarks for instructional quality and curriculum rigor. Courses earned there may transfer toward an associate or bachelor’s degree should you decide to continue your education.
Schools often hold regional accreditation that applies to all degree and college-level programs. Regional organizations such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and the Higher Learning Commission serve as the nation’s oldest accrediting bodies. Learn more at this page.
Paralegal programs may also seek programmatic accreditation from the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA accredits paralegal programs offered by two-year and four-year colleges or universities and specialized legal preparation programs. Accreditation requires meeting strict curriculum standards in legal services, the American legal system, and professional ethics. The ABA reports more than 1,000 schools offering paralegal education, though only about 200 have elected to pursue the specialized accreditation.
Best Online Paralegal Certificate Programs
Many factors go into choosing the best online certificate programs. Paralegal students should evaluate each program carefully to ensure it meets their needs. The programs below offer a rigorous and relevant curriculum. However, students should also consider methods of instruction, self-paced study or traditional or accelerated terms, and certificate cost. Also, consider if you can transfer your coursework toward a degree should you later decide to continue your education.
Based in Goodman, Mississippi, Holmes Community College enrolls students on campus and online. The college offers flexible distance education programs with courses lasting 15, eight, and four weeks, allowing learners to study at their own pace.
Students in the online paralegal technology program can earn a technical certificate, advanced technical certificate, or associate of applied sciences, which require 30, 45, and 60 credits, respectively. Most online students complete 15 credits per semester and earn their certificate or associate degree in 1-2 years. Learners pursuing the associate degree complete general education courses in areas including math, public speaking, and English. All three options adhere to standards set by the National Association of Legal Assistants.
After completing the program, graduates can secure entry-level paralegal positions in law firms, courtrooms, and government agencies. Learners can complete the program online or in a hybrid format.
Clovis Community College
Based in New Mexico, CCC provides affordable certificate, diploma, and bachelor’s programs. The college offers low tuition rates and maintains transfer agreements with many four-year institutions in the state.
CCC offers an online paralegal program with associate degree and online certificate paralegal options. Most learners complete the 66-credit associate degree in five semesters, and students can earn the 30-credit certificate in two semesters. Graduates of the online paralegal program often secure positions in law firms, corporations, and government agencies.
The college delivers online courses through Canvas. Students pay a per-credit tuition rate, and New Mexico residents and full-time learners receive tuition discounts.
Ocean County College
Toms River, NJ
Ocean County College is a public two-year school based in New Jersey. Founded in 1964, OCC provides affordable higher education programs, including online options.
The college delivers the certificate of proficiency in paralegal studies program entirely online. While completing the certification program, paralegal students gain basic legal skills necessary to pursue entry-level positions in law offices. The certificate program requires 33 credits in courses such as business law, law office management, and an introduction to litigation.
The certificate program is ideal for learners entering the legal field. However, current law office employees can also benefit from the program. After earning the certificate, students can apply all credits toward an associate degree in paralegal studies. OCC enrolls recent high school graduates, working professionals, and current high school students in the certificate program.
Prince George's Community College
PGCC is based in Largo, Maryland, within the District of Columbia metro area. The school’s graduates often secure positions with local public and private organizations. Students in the online paralegal studies certificate program benefit from the college’s proximity to the nation’s capital.
Students in the certificate program can complete all 30 credits online. Required courses include legal writing, contracts, and legal ethics. Students choose elective classes in specific legal topics. Graduates can apply all credits toward an associate degree in paralegal studies. Full-time students typically complete the program in one year.
New students discuss their workload and desired career outcomes with an advisor. Online students also receive access to a career coach. County residents and Maryland residents receive tuition discounts.
Umpqua Community College
UCC delivers flexible programs that prepare students for careers in various industries. The college educates learners online and at its campus in Roseburg, Oregon.
Most graduates of UCC’s online legal assistant certificate program become legal assistants or pursue an associate degree in the field. Students typically earn the certificate in one year. Online students choose from multiple start dates, and UCC delivers online courses in an asynchronous format.
Students must earn a grade of C or better in all legal studies courses. Applicants must demonstrate the ability to type quickly and accurately. Depending on their placement test scores, new students may need to take writing courses. Upon completing the program, students can immediately pursue the college’s online associate degree in paralegal studies.
Tompkins Cortland Community College
Based in Dryden, New York, Tompkins Cortland enrolls more than 2,500 students on campus and online.
Available as a certificate and an associate of applied science, the online paralegal program prepares students for careers in legal services, court systems, and corporations. Learners can pursue the 63-credit associate degree and the 32-credit certificate primarily online. Students must complete a paralegal internship in person through a private or public organization in the New York area.
The college delivers online courses asynchronously, so learners can study at their convenience. Tompkins Cortland accepts previous college credits, and students with transfer credits can earn the associate degree in as little as two months. Students can transfer credits from Tompkins Cortland to all public institutions in New York and some private schools in the state.
Yavapai College provides higher education programs to help learners advance professionally. YC maintains six campuses across Arizona, along with a growing online campus.
Ideal for learners who plan to enter careers in law or business, the online paralegal studies certificate requires 30 credits, including 24 core credits. The final six credits comprise two elective courses. Elective options include a family law class, a real estate law course, and an in-person internship. Students typically complete the program in two semesters, and graduates often work for private and public organizations.
Arizona residents pay a discounted tuition rate. After earning the paralegal studies certificate, graduates can transfer the credits into a two- or four-year program.
Lake Superior College
LSC offers some of the lowest tuition rates in Minnesota. While many graduates transfer to a four-year institution, others immediately enter careers.
LSC students can earn a paralegal certificate entirely online or in a hybrid format. Most learners complete the program in one year. The 30-credit curriculum helps students gain skills they can apply to work as paralegals. Coursework covers topics including legal terminology, the legal system, and court procedures. The certificate program culminates with a one-credit capstone course.
Applicants must demonstrate English and reading competencies by taking the NG Accuplacer exam or by completing an introductory English or reading course. All online students pay in-state tuition rates, regardless of residency status.
Eastern Kentucky University
Based in Richmond, EKU is a four-year school that provides bachelor’s degrees and post-baccalaureate certificates. The university delivers certificate programs on campus and online.
Intended for students who hold a bachelor’s degree, the fully online paralegal science post-baccalaureate certificate program prepares students to become paralegals and legal assistants. Applicants need a bachelor’s in a non-paralegal field. The certificate program requires 30-31 credits and takes as little as 18 months to complete. The program comprises eight-week courses, and EKU offers six start dates throughout the year. Learners must complete at least nine credits synchronously.
EKU assists graduates of the paralegal certificate program with job placement. The university does not accept transfer credits into the post-baccalaureate certificate program.
Cerro Coso Community College
Based in Ridgecrest, California, Cerro Coso was founded in 1973. The community college offers on-campus and online programs, including an entirely online paralegal studies certificate program.
While pursuing the online certificate, paralegal students gain skills related to data analysis, investigative functions, and pretrial preparation. The 32-credit curriculum comprises 24 core credits and eight credits of paralegal electives. Elective options include courses in bankruptcy law, real property law, and family law. Students can use electives to begin pursuing status as a certified paralegal in a specialty area.
Cerro Coso delivers online courses through Canvas. The school charges a per-credit tuition rate, and California residents receive a significant tuition discount.
Career and Salary Outlook for Paralegals
Paralegals enjoy substantial employment opportunities as law firms look for cost reductions and efficiency in their work. The BLS projects jobs for these professionals to grow 12% between 2018 and 2028. Skills in computer database management and computer-aided research remain in high demand for new paralegals.
Some paralegals specialize in a specific type of law, such as family law or litigation. Organizations may include large law firms where paralegals support multiple lawyers or departments, or small firms with 1-2 attorneys. Many corporations also employ paralegals in their legal department to assist with shareholder agreements, annual financial reports, and/or employee contract preparation. They may also review new legislation at state and federal levels to ensure corporate compliance.
Paralegal compensation often depends on education, experience, and the industry in which you work. Your area of responsibility may also impact earnings.
While paralegals earned a median annual salary of $51,740 in 2019, according to the BLS, pay can top $82,000. The top-paying industries for paralegals include grant-making services, with an annual mean wage of $91,000. Most paralegals, however, find work in the legal services field, which offers a mean salary of $52,910. The District of Columbia reports the highest-paying market for paralegals at $82,010, followed by Colorado at $62,250, and California at $61,810.
A certificate represents the level of formal training a paralegal completes. A certificate is the culmination of a curriculum designed to prepare paralegals for working in their new field. Industry organizations often offer certifications that verify a paralegal’s professional knowledge and skills. Because most states impose no requirements for paralegal licensing or training, employers often seek individuals with certifications that independently verify a paralegal’s abilities.
National and state paralegal organizations develop certification requirements, which may involve education and work experience combined with an exam. Formed as the National Association of Legal Assistants, NALA offers the certified paralegal credential and advanced certification. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations offers the Paralegal CORE Competency Exam and the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam. The organization also provides specialty certificates in litigation, corporate law, elder law, and intellectual property. Because state rules on certification vary widely, state-level licensing and registration often do not transfer to other states.
While the ABA does not offer professional credentials, the organization certifies the academic preparation programs through accreditation. However, paralegals can benefit from a membership with the organization. Members enjoy a subscription to the ABA Journal and access to ABA’s legal technology resources. Professional credentials often require ongoing legal education, made available through organizations like the ABA or other professional groups.
Scholarships for Paralegal Students
Scholarships help offset the cost of your education. These awards may come from businesses, nonprofits, professional organizations, or individual schools. Scholarships do not require repayment, unlike loans, and can reduce your out-of-pocket costs. Often, awards feature competitive application processes. Some funds may only support students attending accredited programs or serve learners in a specific geographic region.
While the scholarships below feature support for prospective paralegals, check with organizations in your community that offer scholarships for continuing education in any discipline.
Women in Public Finance Who Can Apply: High school graduates with a 3.0 GPA or higher may apply for this award that encourages women to consider careers in finance, nonprofits, governments, or law. The criteria considers leadership and extracurricular involvement or work experience combined with academic promise. The organization awards up to 10 scholarships each year. Amount: $1,000 minimum
San Diego Paralegal Association Annual Scholarship Who Can Apply: This annual award supports San Diego County students seeking a paralegal certification or degree. Members of the professional organization may also seek the award to support continuing legal education. The association offers two scholarships each year, with decisions based on academic or professional achievement, community involvement, leadership, and association participation. The application requires a student essay, current resume, and letters of recommendation. Amount: $500
Paralegal Association of Florida, Inc. Who Can Apply: Student members of this statewide association can apply for a $500 award. The organization offers two awards each year. The application considers academic and leadership activities and a statement of professional goals. The committee also asks for one letter of recommendation. Only Florida residents may apply. Amount: $500
Courses in Paralegal Certificate Programs
Online certification courses instruct paralegal students in essential legal knowledge and build the technical and time-management skills necessary for professional success. Certificate programs provide a career-focused curriculum without many general education classes.
Programs may require only a few months to complete up to a year of study. Expect to take courses in the American legal system and constitutional foundations of American law, legal research and writing, and professional ethics. You will also learn how to access databases, such as LexisNexis, and use electronic tools for research and discovery. The courses below offer examples of common classes, though the curriculum varies by school.
As members of the legal profession, paralegals often possess sensitive information. This course explores their ethical and legal responsibilities, helping learners identify potential issues. Through reading and written assignments, students develop analytical and problem-solving abilities to address ethical issues.
Legal Research and Writing
Legal research includes identifying and locating applicable legal statutes and court decisions for a particular case. The course also builds communication skills and instructs students to format legal briefs and cite their research. Assignments call on students to develop legal reasoning using their research.
Rules for collecting and preserving evidence obtained from computers, mobile devices, or cloud computer storage continue to evolve through new legislation and new court rulings. This course prepares paralegals for the proper forms required for requesting discovery of this evidence and the data collection and organization methods necessary to track critical evidence during the pre-trial and trial process.