To begin your practice as a professional and qualified paralegal, you may complete a paralegal certificate program and become certificated. This is one of the first steps toward working in an office of law. Certificates are credentials awarded by colleges and universities, usually after one has earned an associate’s or bachelor’s in a related or unrelated field.
But what is a paralegal certificate? Will it get you a job? Will it label you a certified paralegal? Do you want to earn a paralegal certificate online? Which paralegal certificate program is best for you?
As long as there is law and order there is a need for professional paralegals to support the work of lawyers. The current career outlook for paralegals and legal assistants sits at 10% through 2029, a much faster than average rate of increase according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However that number dropped five percent since the 2016-2026 BLS outlook, meaning the competition can be stiff, and having an educational advantage can make you a more qualified candidate for the job you want.
In this article we will cover what an active paralegal does, and how to become a paralegal through an online paralegal certificate program.
Become A Paralegal Online
To enter this distinguished field you may pursue an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. Employers today tend to lean towards applicants with bachelor’s degrees, but since there are so few bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies the expected path is to earn a bachelor’s in another field, let’s say, business administration or English, and then earn a certificate in paralegal studies on top of that.
An online paralegal certificate is the quickest and most accessible way to become competitive for jobs in the legal field.
Legal assistants and paralegals work in many types of environments: law firms, corporate legal offices, government agencies. The median salary for paralegals in 2020 was $52,920 annually. This is much higher than the average salary figures for secretaries and office workers, who do many similar tasks, but without the specialized training and capabilities of a paralegal. Paralegals help law firms cut down on costs, as they can do much of the support work for lawyers beyond basic secretarial tasks, and this accounts for the rosy outlook on job growth in this profession.
For a lucky few who have already gotten a job working in a law office, an online paralegal program, or specialized certificate, can provide credentials allowing advancement in their current career, taking on more complex tasks to assist lawyers in all types of matters. While working, whether in a legal department or any other profession, taking an online paralegal certificate course is a great way to move towards higher paying jobs in law.
Online Paralegal Programs
One of the great advantages of online paralegal training is that it is almost always 100% online, with few to none on-campus requirements. Several programs have hybrid or blended options as well. While searching for a paralegal certificate, search for what works best for your schedule; asynchronous or synchronous courses, project timelines, group work, etc.
Online paralegal certificate programs can take anywhere from four months to two years to complete, depending on the full- or part-time schedule of the program and whether or not your certificate is self-paced. Many programs have a set order of basic courses you must follow to get your certificate, but you may have the option to choose electives in specialty areas of law that interest you.
The time required to complete work for the paralegal online courses can vary from school to school, but a good rule of thumb is that for a 3-credit course, you will spend about nine hours per week—three hours accessing class materials online, and five to six hours studying or completing assignments on your own.
Basic courses in all programs will cover the legal system, research for law, writing and communication, litigation and procedures, document preparation, ethics in law offices, and more. Some programs will include real estate law, family law, criminal law, or other special areas in their basic curriculum, while other programs will have these and other areas as elective options.
The primary competencies that are taught in online paralegal education are communication and interpersonal skills, technologies for the legal field, organizational and research skills, and the knowledge to assist attorneys within the legal system of the United States. Paralegal programs online will orient students to the work that will be required of them as legal assistants: researching facts and laws for cases, organizing and filing documents, writing reports and correspondence, supporting lawyers in cases, and communicating with clients, courts and others.
A Note On ABA Accreditation
The American Bar Association (ABA) approves certain paralegal programs, and when you are seeking training to become a legal assistant it is encouraged to look for an ABA-approved curriculum. This gives a paralegal certificate, degree or school more credibility in the field of law. However, as of 2018, the American Bar Association does not accredit any 100% online paralegal programs of any degree level, but many hybrid options have been approved by the association.
Yet, don’t despair! Though the ABA is the national association for the legal profession, each state has its own requirements for lawyers and paralegals and many do not require an ABA-accreditation. In most states, paralegals have their own state professional organizations that offer voluntary licensing or certification. So, an ABA-accredited paralegal program is not always required to be hired at a firm.
Paralegals work under the direct supervision of lawyers who are members of their bar associations, and do not usually need to pursue licensure unless they are going the extra mile. Although legal assistants take on many very important duties, they work with highly trained lawyers who can guide them and are responsible for the legal actions within their practice; therefore, very few mandatory laws exist to regulate legal assistants.
Once you become a certificated paralegal through an institution, there are exams available for continued education that are voluntary, yet necessary. Though it is not required to take these exams, having passed can be a sign of competence that will make a job candidate a more attractive hire year by year. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers a national exam to test skills and knowledge that will allow a legal assistant to be a certified paralegal, which is intrinsically different from being certificated.
There is also a Professional Paralegal exam offered by NALS…the association for legal professionals which tests similar areas and is valid for five years upon passing examination. Either of these exams can be voluntarily undertaken by a person seeking employment as a paralegal, and are encouraged for continuing education on the job.
Top 12 Online Paralegal Certificate Programs
Education is the first step in finding a well-paying job as a paralegal, so let’s look at paralegal studies programs you can take online.
1. Rasmussen University
- Rasmussen University offers an online paralegal certificate program that can be completed fully online or in a blended format.
- Flex Choice® self-directed assessment courses are an option to accelerate your program based on your prior knowledge—you can progress at your own pace, more quickly with information you are familiar with, and taking more time on unfamiliar course content.
- Entrance requires an associate or bachelor’s degree, and the certificate includes 61 credits of work.
- Employment options after the online paralegal certificate program include areas such as healthcare, insurance, law enforcement, public health, social services, and state government.
2. University of Massachusetts-Lowell
- The entirely online certificate program in paralegal studies at UMass-Lowell allows students to go at their own pace, taking one or two courses per semester. There are three semesters per year: Fall, Spring, and Summer.
- There are four required courses and two electives in this certificate program, and students who wish to continue after the certificate can apply all credits to a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or liberal arts.
- There is no application fee for this online paralegal program. Students must maintain a 2.0 GPA to receive the certificate, which takes approximately 18 months.
3. Post University
- The online professional certificate in paralegal studies at Post University prepares students to pursue jobs in banks, insurance, real estate, private or corporate law offices, or government legal offices.
- The program comprises 30 credits, offers some accelerated courses, and is designed to be completed in as little as one year, though most students take more time in this program.
- The online paralegal studies program focuses on student’s professional communication, organizational, and technology skills, while also enhancing ethical awareness and teamwork in legal services. One-on-one faculty attention is part of the program and students are also assigned a faculty advisor to assure their success.
- The curriculum was designed with input from professional attorneys, and includes research, document preparation, client interaction, and basics of testimony, interrogations, and depositions.
4. American Public University System
- American Public University System’s online certificate in paralegal studies is completely online and convenient for working adults.
- This online university partners with industry organizations to verify that the curriculum meets market needs.
- Areas taught include: attorney-paralegal communication, trial preparation, research, legal document preparation, and investigation.
- Very low tuition, discounts for military members and veterans, and credit for prior experience are some of the benefits of online programs at APUS.
- Course materials are available for free online for undergraduate courses to save even more money. Application for the program is free.
- This paralegal studies online program provides a good foundation education, and includes work on writing, legal theory and terminology.
5. Lake Superior College
- The online certificate program in paralegal studies at Lake Superior College can be completed in a year.
- Designed to prepare students to become non-lawyer legal professionals, this program can be applied towards the associate degree in paralegal studies if students wish to continue their education.
- Instruction in legal software, terminology, documents, and research are part of the program. Additionally, the program covers state and federal court systems, procedural and substantive law, and client interaction.
- For Minnesota residents, tuition is very affordable, while out-of-state students will pay more in this online paralegal program. Most courses are required, with just one elective course in this comprehensive basic program.
6. Liberty University
- Liberty University’s 100% online undergraduate certificate in paralegal studies has eight-week classes, eight start dates per year, and is completed in an average of one year.
- With free online textbooks for all its courses, and military tuition discounts, this program is affordable and very flexible.
- This nonprofit Christian school offers the possibility of completing the paralegal studies online program in as little as two semesters. No transfer credits are allowed in the 18-credit hour certificate program.
- Requirements for admission include a high school self-certification form, a 2.0 GPA on any previous college courses, and proof of English proficiency.
- This fast-track option to enter the legal field allows working adults to continue their education while attending to family and work commitments.
7. Duke University
- Duke University’s online paralegal certificate program is geared towards people looking to change careers.
- Admission requires an associate or bachelor’s degree, English fluency, and internet skills/access.
- This is a 300-hour program (not 300 credits) that includes a set number of hours of essential skills for a paralegal—evidence, research, pleadings, motions, writing, courts and technology.
- The online paralegal program hosts electives in two of the four special areas offered: contract, tort, criminal, or business law. Students learn how to create and manipulate legal documents, and instructors can even help with specific state legal documents anywhere in the US.
- The program is self-paced and must be completed within one year. This is a non-credit certificate program, so the coursework does not count towards any degree program. Applications are accepted year-round.
8. Hutchinson Community College
- Prepares students to become paralegals, also known as Legal Assistants, who will perform legal work under an attorney’s supervision
- Students will learn to conduct legal research, participate in meetings, and review legal documents for production
- In addition to law offices, graduates are employed in court and government agencies, insurance companies, and corporate legal departments
- The online paralegal certificate program includes specializations in Business law, Litigation, Family law, Wills, Estates, and Trusts, Legal ethics, Criminal law and Personal Injury and Civil Wrongs
9. Franklin Pierce University
- Franklin Pierce University’s 100% online certificate in paralegal studies is designed to prepare students to take the NALA national certification exam.
- This 30-credit undergraduate paralegal certificate program gives a foundation in theoretical as well as practical legal issues.
- Courses in the program that students need to successfully complete to receive the certificate include microcomputer applications, legal analysis, tort law, probate law, litigation, real estate law, corporate law, family law and criminal law.
- The university partners with the military, so military members, spouses and family members should check on financial assistance.
10. Northwest Mississippi Community College
- The 30-credit online certificate in paralegal studies at Northwest Mississippi Community College is built out of the online associate degree in paralegal technology.
- The program emphasizes practical application in areas of law such as real property, family, and trust and estate law.
- The online paralegal certificate can be completed in as little as 12 months. As courses are drawn from the legal studies degree program, students who think they may wish to continue past the certificate may find this program a good choice.
- In-state tuition is very reasonable, and out-of-state students will pay a bit less than double the tuition of residents of Mississippi.
11. Hinds Community College
- Hinds Community College is an associate degree granting institution in Mississippi that offers a three-tiered paralegal education, including an online certificate in paralegal technology.
- The 30-credit certificate program is referred to as a career certificate, while students who continue may qualify for the technical certificate or the associate degree.
- This online paralegal program covers subjects such as research, writing, family law, wills and estates, litigation, torts, and contracts.
- Designed to provide entry-level education for those seeking to work in courts, law offices, government, or corporations, this program is very affordable for in-state students, while out-of-state students will pay about double that tuition.
- The college has an office of veteran’s affairs available to assist veterans and dependents in applying for educational benefits.
12. Ocean County College
- The certificate in proficiency in paralegal studies online from Ocean County College prepares students to work in law offices or other legal environments, or to increase skills for those who already work in the legal field.
- Students complete nine courses in foundational legal subjects, and then choose two elective courses in areas of specialty including: accounting, communications, management, real estate law, criminal law, mediation, and more.
- Tuition for this community college is very low, making this a great choice for the budget-conscious student. Students without a high school diploma can be considered for this program, though financial aid may be dependent on having a GED.
- All the courses in this program can transfer to the associate degree program in paralegal studies for those who wish to continue their education.
- LEARN MORE ABOUT OCEAN COUNTY COLLEGE