Paralegals assist lawyers with daily tasks, including organization, research, and paperwork. Those who enter this field need a keen eye for detail, analytic abilities, and a moral compass that helps them navigate the complex and real-life issues involved with clients.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, paralegals earn an average salary of about $50,000 per year.
The advantages of earning this certificate online include program flexibility, affordability, and quality. Online paralegal programs often allow students to work at their own pace, helping learners meet family and work obligations. Paralegal courses online are also sometimes cheaper than in-house courses. Students do not pay on-campus fees and often receive in-state tuition options even if they live out of state. These courses also meet accreditation standards and are taught by the same faculty who teach on campus, ensuring that employers will recognize your certificate upon hire.
We’ve ranked the 10 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 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 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.