Online Paralegal Associate Degree Programs

The Most Affordable Paths & Career Potential in Paralegal Studies

Before choosing an online paralegal associate program, students should consider their career aspirations and potential salary. Learners should also choose a program that provides a curriculum relevant to their professional goals and develops skills that apply to their prospective career path. This guide reviews common elements of paralegal associate programs, along with scholarship opportunities and organizations for students and professionals in the field.

Quiz: Is An Online Paralegal Associate Program Right for Me?

Are you unsure of whether an online degree in paralegal studies is right for you? Take the following quiz to see whether your interests and goals match the requirements and outcomes of an online paralegal program at the associate level.

Q: Do you see yourself working with attorneys to prepare legal documents and writing contracts containing complex legal jargon to be submitted to the courts?

A: Though paralegal programs aren't as rigorous as law school, these programs require hard work and dedication. Students earning an online paralegal associate degree learn about the law and court systems and prepare to provide expertise and support to attorneys and clients. Paralegals can focus on a variety of subjects and legal specializations.

If learning legal jargon seems daunting, paralegal training may not be the right fit for you.

Q: Does a two year degree program feel like the right study timeline?

A: Students typically spend two years completing a paralegal associate program approved by the American Bar Association. Most programs require 60 credits in a variety of disciplines, including English, politics, legal studies, and technology.

Students interested in slowing or accelerating their pace of study often pursue a paralegal associate degree online. Distance programs generally offer the flexibility to study at your own pace and from a convenient location. Look for programs with rolling start dates if you plan to begin studying outside the standard semester-based schedule.

Q: Do you have prior credits to transfer?

A: Students earning an online associate degree in paralegal studies can typically transfer previous general education credits, along with credits from advanced placement high school classes and college courses related to legal studies. Some schools also award credits for work experience in the legal field. Check with your college's admissions office to determine which credits you can transfer.

For students without credits to transfer, this page details courses you will likely take in an online paralegal associate degree program.

Q: Are you interested in eventually earning a bachelor's degree?

A: If you do not plan to pursue a four-year degree, an associate degree in paralegal studies can qualify you for a variety of roles in the legal industry. Paralegals, legal secretaries, and assistants are essential to law firms, and they typically comprise about 35% of a firm's staff, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Although employers require varying minimum educational requirements for paralegals, these professionals do not need a license or certification.

Graduates of associate programs who choose to pursue a bachelor's degree often earn an online bachelor's in legal studies. Some graduates also attend law school and become attorneys and judges.

What Will You Learn in an Online Associate Paralegal Program?

During an online associate program in paralegal studies, degree-seekers develop skills and knowledge that apply to various legal services careers. While completing coursework, students develop an understanding of the processes and procedures involved in court proceedings, legal issues, and criminal law. Each program offers a unique curriculum, but all associate programs in the field include courses that prepare students to enter paralegal careers and transfer to bachelor's programs in the field.

Common Classes and Coursework

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    Legal Research: This course provides an introduction to case law, the court system, legal research methods, and statutes. Students learn to perform competent, cost-effective legal research and gain a solid understanding of legal research methods and legal systems.
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    Criminal Practice and Procedures: This class explores the sources, general principles, and meaning behind criminal law. Students focus on the doctrinal issues of general crimes. Students also explore the limitations on law due to amendments in the Constitution and learn about the overall criminal justice process.
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    Legal Writing: Learners develop a working knowledge of legal writing methods. Students prepare to effectively communicate with readers by applying effective legal writing techniques.
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    Civil Practice: This course focuses on the principles and rules of court processes during civil disputes. Students explore the relationship between substantive and procedural law, including principles of jurisdiction, pleadings, and jurisdiction between federal and state court systems.
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    Legal Investigation: Learners in this class explore the key roles and responsibilities of legal investigators and review the process for conducting an interview. Coursework emphasizes research techniques and discovery methods. Students also learn to document and write accurate legal statements, as well as prepare evidence.

Skills You Will Gain

While earning a paralegal associate degree online, students develop a variety of skills applicable to paralegal roles. Students learn how to conduct legal research using technological and manual methods, as well as how to use current technologies to prepare legal documents. Learners also examine legal ethics and procedural law. Throughout the program, students analyze and identify theoretical and practical legal issues related to the document preparation process.

Paralegal students at the associate level develop foundational knowledge of the philosophies and methodologies related to basic law practices. Learners cultivate an understanding of criminal law and procedure. They learn how to write real estate transactions and depositions, as well as how to perform title searches.

Graduates of associate programs often enter the field as paralegals or transfer to a related bachelor's program. Most bachelor's programs accept transfer credits from associate programs and build on the foundational knowledge students develop during their two-year degree.

Average Degree Length

Students earning their associate degree online can often graduate more quickly. Online programs typically offer more flexibility than on-campus programs, which can be ideal for learners with busy personal and professional lives. Online programs often boast asynchronous formats, allowing learners to complete coursework at any time, from any location. Many online programs feature accelerated options, allowing students to take more credits each semester to expedite degree completion time.

While most students complete their associate degree in about two years, some learners graduate in as quickly as one year. Students with busy schedules can pursue their associate degree part time; however, this may increase program length by six months to a year, depending on exact course load. When choosing a school, learners should ensure the program offers their ideal enrollment type.

Career Opportunities with an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies

The table below details potential careers and salaries for graduates who have earned their paralegal associate degree online. This section details common careers for graduates, along with median salaries of professionals in the field. Additionally, you can review scholarship opportunities for learners in paralegal studies programs.

Potential Careers and Salaries

Graduates with a paralegal associate degree can qualify for a variety of career opportunities in the legal services industry. Many graduates become paralegals who perform legal, business, and regulatory tasks for lawyers and legal departments. Graduates can also pursue roles as legal assistants who prepare documents and help lawyers plan cases. Additional career opportunities in the field include positions as legal secretaries, court reporters, and administrative assistants.

Legal Assistant

Legal assistants can work as part of corporate legal teams or for lawyers at individual firms. These professionals perform research and prepare documents to help lawyers plan cases and prioritize evidence.

Median Annual Salary: $43,510

Paralegal

In charge of performing business, legal, and regulatory tasks for lawyers, paralegals often work within legal departments, courts, and law offices. Paralegals help lawyers prepare memorandums, briefs, motions, and pleadings.

Median Annual Salary: $47,593

Court Reporter

Court reporters produce word-for-word transcriptions at administrative hearings, trials, depositions, and other legal proceedings. These professionals provide copies of their work to counsels, courts, and involved parties.

Median Annual Salary: $57,150

Administrative Assistant

Administrative assistants perform routine administrative and clerical duties in an office environment. Administrative assistants answer telephones, perform basic bookkeeping, and schedule staff meetings.

Median Annual Salary: $38,880

Legal Secretary

Legal secretaries file materials including briefs, motions, pleadings, and memorandums. They also interview clients over the phone and in person before referring clients to lawyers.

Median Annual Salary: $53,100

Five Paralegal Scholarships to Apply For

Students interested in earning a paralegal associate degree online can explore scholarship opportunities reserved for students in the field. Before applying for an award, learners should review the scholarship's criteria to determine their eligibility. Some scholarship programs require candidates to meet a minimum GPA or submit materials such as essays and letters of recommendation.

Console and Hollawell Legal Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This scholarship is open to graduating high school seniors accepted into law-related programs, including programs in legal assisting, paralegal studies, and pre-law. Applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and submit a 600-word essay.

Amount: $1,000

Apply for Scholarship

Elizabeth Root Memorial Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Orange County Paralegal Association awards this scholarship to two paralegal students each year. Applicants must submit an essay demonstrating that they possess five characteristics necessary to become successful paralegals. Only OCPA members qualify.

Amount: $500

Apply for Scholarship

Lambda Epsilon Chi Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Students attending a university with an active LEX chapter can apply for this award. Candidates must be enrolled full time or part time in a paralegal program. Applicants must submit a 750-word essay.

Amount: $500

Apply for Scholarship

Warner Norcross and Judd Minority Scholarships

Who Can Apply: This law firm offers scholarships to law school students, paralegal students, and legal secretary students. Applicants must be residents of Michigan.

Amount: $2,000

Apply for Scholarship

NFPA Thomson Reuters Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Candidates for this scholarship must be pursuing a paralegal associate degree, bachelor's degree, or certificate. Applicants must submit a four-page essay, provide a letter of recommendation, and have a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Amount: $3,000

Apply for Scholarship

Educational Advancement in Paralegal Studies

After earning a paralegal associate degree online, many graduates pursue further studies in the field. This section reviews advanced education options for paralegal associate degree-holders. For example, many graduates of associate programs transfer into a four-year program to expand their career opportunities.

Learners can pursue various degree paths. Additionally, graduates can join professional organizations and take advantage of online resources to build their network, develop professionally, improve their skills and knowledge, and satisfy continuing education requirements.

Should You Transfer to a Four-Year Degree Program?

Paralegal studies graduates often transfer their associate degree into a bachelor's program. Most four-year institutions accept transfer credits from associate programs, and many universities maintain transfer agreements with community colleges. Although an associate degree is the minimum requirement for many paralegal positions, a bachelor's degree can lead to additional opportunities and higher earning potential.

What Degree Paths Should You Consider?

Students interested in pursuing a paralegal program can choose from a variety of degrees. Associate programs help students develop foundational knowledge in the field. Learners who want to specialize in a certain area can pursue a bachelor's degree. Individuals who want a faster route to becoming a paralegal often earn a certificate in paralegal studies.

Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies Students can pursue an associate degree on campus and online. Associate programs help learners develop a basic understanding of the paralegal profession and the American legal system.
Bachelor's Degree in Paralegal Studies Learners can pursue a bachelor's in paralegal studies to qualify for additional career options with higher earning potential. Bachelor's students complete specialized courses and often undertake an internship.
Post-Degree Certificate of Completion in Paralegal Studies Certificate programs are ideal for individuals who hold an associate degree in paralegal studies or a bachelor's degree in another field. A post-degree certificate in the field prepares learners for roles as paralegals in a relatively short amount of time.

Professional Organizations and Resources

After earning a paralegal associate degree online, graduates often join professional organizations in the field, many of which provide networking opportunities, publications, and continuing education classes. Additionally, graduates can access online resources to expand their skills and knowledge.

  • American Association for Paralegal Education: AAfPE is the nation's largest professional organization dedicated to promoting quality across legal services. The organization provides resources and information for paralegals.
  • Association of Legal Administrators: This organization supports professionals involved with the management of law firms and connects leaders and managers in the legal industry.
  • International Practice Management Association: This membership-based professional organization promotes the development of the paralegal profession and supports management professionals.
  • NALS, The Association for Legal Professionals: NALS provides education, networking, and certification opportunities to legal assistants, paralegals, and legal secretaries. The association supports professionals across the legal services field.
  • The American Alliance of Paralegals: Founded in 2003 by a group of 11 paralegals in Phoenix, Arizona, this organization works to advance the paralegal profession by providing members with education, summits, a job forum, and other resources.
  • The American Bar Association: One of the world's largest voluntary professional organizations, ABA boasts more than 400,000 members across legal professions, including students in legal fields.
  • The Empowered Paralegal: This blog provides information and resources for paralegals and legal assistants in the United States.
  • The National Association of Legal Assistants: This nonprofit organization provides continuing education and professional development opportunities to legal assistants and paralegals.
  • National Federation of Paralegal Associations: The leading paralegal association in the United States, NFPA serves nearly 20,000 paralegals. The association provides education and professional development opportunities.
  • Paralegal Today: This website provides access to a variety of articles, which outline strategies and resources to help paralegals become more effective.