Paralegal Bachelor’s Degree
A paralegal bachelor’s degree offers the chance to gain in-depth knowledge of the legal system and gain the skills necessary to work in this demanding and fast-paced field. Bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies are usually offered in two formats: either as four-year programs requiring at least 120 credits in liberal arts, math or science, and paralegal studies or as degree completion programs for individuals with prior experience or training. Coursework in a paralegal program may cover topics such as professional communication, legal ethics, legal systems, and investigations. Some programs may also have specialization options in specific areas of law or procedure. Paralegal bachelor’s degree programs are offered in both online and on-campus formats.
Paralegals primarily work in law offices but may also find work in government or private organizations. Daily tasks may be comprised of preparing a variety of documents including wills, contracts, research reports, transcripts, and briefings, and working with legal teams and clients. Paralegals are generally not allowed to provide legal advice to the public and instead must work under the supervision of a lawyer to assist with administrative and research processes. According to O*NET Online in 2017, 44% of all paralegals possessed a bachelor’s degree.1 In 2016, paralegals and legal assistants employed in the legal services field earned an average salary of $51,140 while those employed in the federal and state government sector earned $67,530 and $48,790 on average respectively.2 The job outlook for paralegals is projected at 15% through 2026.3
The admission requirements for a paralegal bachelor’s degree program will depend on whether the program is designed for students with no prior college education or as a degree completion program for those with prior experience. The four-year degree programs typically require a high school diploma or GED with a minimum grade point average (GPA) and possibly SAT or ACT scores. Degree completion programs may also require a high school diploma or GED as well as transcripts showing prior education in legal studies or a related field. In both instances, personal statements and letters of recommendation may be required as well.
Core Concepts and Coursework
Course requirements for bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies can vary. For example, a four-year degree program is more likely to include foundational coursework in legal systems and paralegalism compared to a degree completion program. Most programs will include advanced coursework in specific areas of the legal system. Examples of courses found in a four-year degree program include:
- Foundations of Paralegalism
- Business Writing
- Family Law
- Conducting Legal Research
- Interviewing and Presentation Skills
- Probate and Estate Planning
- Contracts & Torts
- Advanced Issues in Constitutional Law
- Advanced Topics in Legal Ethics
- Practicum or Internship
Paralegal Bachelor’s Degree Learning Goals
1. Gain extensive knowledge of the legal system.
Students in undergraduate paralegal programs learn about various aspects of the law and legal system. Students may also gain specialized knowledge of a specific area or aspect of the system based on their interests and career plans. This knowledge is critical to successful employment in the legal services field.
2. Develop detailed administrative skills.
Once paralegal students have gained a thorough understanding of the legal system, they learn how to create, organize, and analyze legal documents and legal research required in various legal processes. These processes require strong administrative skills to ensure accuracy and efficiency.
3. Master group communication and interpersonal skills.
Individuals with bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies are professionals in the legal field and must conduct themselves in a professional and ethical manner. Undergraduate paralegal programs usually include specific coursework on legal ethics and professional communication skills, such as business writing and teamwork.
Traditional Paralegal Bachelor’s Degree Programs
Traditional, on-campus degree programs in paralegal studies provide the opportunity to learn about legal studies in a hands-on manner. Below are programs that are certified by the American Bar Association (ABA) and provide additional learning opportunities, such as internships.
Loyola University Chicago (Chicago, IL)
At Loyola University Chicago, students can enroll in a Bachelor of Arts in Paralegal Studies degree completion program through the Institute of Paralegal Studies. This program enables students who have already completed at least 15 credits in paralegal studies, such as through an associate’s degree program, to work towards a bachelor’s degree with concentrations in litigation practice, corporate practice, or both. Courses include Advanced Topics in American Law, Legal Research & Writing I & II, and Legal Ethics. Each student must complete at least 48 credits in total but the number of transfer credits will vary based on each student’s previous experience. Students can apply to five start dates throughout the year in August, October, January, March, and June. Courses are structured in eight-week blocks and offered online and on-campus during evenings and weekends. The program is designed for working professionals and can be taken on a full-time or part-time basis. Students also have the option to complete a specialized certificate in Civil Litigation by focusing their electives in the program.
University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH)
The University of Cincinnati’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services has a Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies program that takes four years of full-time study to complete or longer via part-time study. The program includes both paralegal and criminal justice content with required courses such as Legal Research & Writing I & II, Investigative Techniques and Evidence, and Criminal Procedure. An internship is also required in the senior year. New students are admitted for the fall, spring, and summer terms. Paralegal students can benefit from the many on-campus and online special topics seminars held by the School of Criminal Justice throughout the year to earn extra credit and interact with students from other related programs. A minor in paralegal studies is also offered in conjunction with other major programs.
University of New Haven (West Haven, CT)
The University of New Haven offers an ABA-approved Bachelor of Science degree in Legal Studies with a concentration in paralegalism that can be completed full-time or part-time. The program boasts interdisciplinary and global perspectives on local and global legal issues with a required internship and an optional study abroad experience. At least 124 credits are necessary to graduate including the university’s liberal arts core and the legal studies major. The paralegalism concentration includes courses such as Civil Procedure II – Litigation, Mock Trial, and Advanced Investigative Techniques. Applicants can request to live in a designated Pre-Law community during the first year of the program if they would like to live with other students interested in various legal careers, including further legal study. The university also offers a minor in paralegal studies, an associate’s degree in paralegal studies, and a paralegal certificate program.
Online Paralegal Bachelor’s Degree Programs
There are many online paralegal bachelor’s degree programs available for students who may work full-time, or have other obligations that prohibit them from attending school on a full-time basis. Below we have listed several programs open to students interested in building a career in this field that can be completed fully online. You can also read more about online paralegal degrees through our guide to top-ranked online paralegal programs.
Hampton University (Hampton, VA)
Hampton University offers a four-year Bachelor of Arts in Paralegal Studies fully online through the Hampton U Online portal. This university is designated by the US Department of Education as an Historically-Black College or University and was ranked 3rd among such institutions in the 2018 US News & World Report ranking. The program requires the completion of 122 credit hours including the liberal arts core, paralegal requirements, and electives. Paralegal courses include Legal Research, Introduction to Administrative Law, and Business Organizations and are offered online using the Blackboard platform. Students also complete an internship. Hampton University offers extensive support for individuals serving in the military who wish to complete their degrees online, including experiential and work experience credit, flexible course schedules, and tuition assistance programs.
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (Saint Mary of the Woods, IN)
The Department of Social and Behavioral Science at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is home to the Bachelor of Arts degree with a paralegal studies major. Students must complete the Woods Core liberal arts requirements as well as 51 credits for the major consisting of 39 required credits and 12 elective credits. The university offers a range of online degree programs through its Woods Online campus, so students in the online paralegal degree program can access many different electives in addition to the required paralegal courses. Required courses include Legal Communication, Interviewing and Investigation, and Theories of Liability. Electives include Mediation/Alternative Dispute Resolution, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and Women and the Law. Students must also complete at least 150 hours of supervised practicum either during the summer or part-time during the academic year. Prospective applicants can also consider the college’s associate degree program in paralegal studies or the certificate program for those who already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject.
William Woods University (Fulton, MO)
For students with no prior paralegal training, William Woods University offers the chance to enter directly into a four-year degree program and complete a Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies entirely online. The curriculum includes 42 paralegalism credits organized in a set sequence as part of the university’s 122-credit degree requirements. The program aims to help students build a foundation in legal studies before progressing to more advanced coursework. Courses include Law and Paralegalism, Civil Practice, and Constitutional Issues. Students must also complete a practicum and capstone project. Six start dates are offered throughout the year. Applicants must submit an online application with high school transcripts and ACT or SAT scores for consideration. The university may accept credit for previous experience, including military service, related workplace training, or volunteer training.
Paralegal Certification with a Bachelor’s Degree
While it is possible to work as a paralegal without a degree, according to O*NET Online, 74% of all paralegals have a degree and 44% of those individuals specifically hold a bachelor’s degree. The American Bar Association (ABA) offers optional program certification to help prospective students identify programs that meet basic educational requirements. Choosing an ABA-approved program may be beneficial while looking for work, but as this is an optional certification for schools, lack of certification does not necessarily indicate a program is sub-par.
While education can be helpful to find a job, the law does not require specific education or for paralegals to be licensed or certified to work in the profession. In the state of California, individuals who use the job title “paralegal” should meet specific education or work experience requirements, but there are no regulating bodies overseeing this.4
There are several optional certification and professional exams for individuals who would like to further highlight their knowledge to potential employers, such as those offered through the National Association of Legal Assistants, the National Federation of Paralegal Assistants, or The Association for Legal Professionals. These optional certifications may lead to increased job prospects or resources during a job search.
Paralegals also have the option of completing skills training and certifications to demonstrate mastery of paralegal technology resources. LexisNexis offers a Paralegal Student Certification of Mastery that leads students through five modules to demonstrate their ability to use this particular software package found in some law firms. Another example of a paralegal skills training certification is offered by Thompson Reuters WestLaw. This company offers webinar training on how to use their legal research software. By completing three modules and an online test, paralegals are awarded the certification. Some colleges and universities offer access to these certification programs to enrolled students.
Jobs with a Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies
- Compliance Officer
- Court Clerk
- Executive Assistant
- Generalist Paralegal
- Law Clerk
- Legal Administrator
- Legal Advocate
- Legal Assistant
- Legal Researcher
- Legal Secretary
- Risk Management Advisor
- Specialist Paralegal
Frequently Asked Questions
Where do most paralegals find employment?
The overwhelming majority of paralegal graduates find employment in the legal services field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2016, 210,070 paralegals were employed in the legal services field compared to 41,320 paralegals employed in federal, state, and local governments and business management combined.2
What is the difference between a Bachelor of Arts in Paralegal Studies and a Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies?
Each university decides the degree titles and requirements for their programs; therefore, prospective applicants should always review the curriculum requirements before applying. For example, a Bachelor of Science degree may have more foundational math, statistics, and science requirements compared to a Bachelor of Arts degree. Both degrees will require paralegalism courses.
Where is the best place to find a paralegal job?
In 2016, the states with the highest concentrations of paralegal jobs were the District of Columbia, West Virginia, and Florida; however, the highest number of jobs overall were in California, Florida, and New York.2 At the metropolitan level, the highest concentrations of paralegal jobs in 2016 were found in Charleston, WV, Columbia, SC, and Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall, FL, while the highest number of paralegal jobs overall were in New York-Jersey City-White Plains, Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, and Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale.2
How does the job outlook for paralegals and legal assistants compare to other types of jobs?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for paralegal and legal assistant jobs is projected to grow by 15% through 2026, which is considered much faster than the outlook for all jobs combined during the same time period.3
1. O*NET Online https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/23-2011.00
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Paralegals and Legal Assistants: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes232011.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Paralegals and Legal Assistants: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm
4. American Bar Association: Educational Information for Paralegals: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/paralegals/profession-information/educational-information-for-paralegals/