Online Paralegal Degree

If you want to work as a paralegal but don't have time to go to school, an online paralegal degree might provide a solution to your problem. Online degree programs are increasing the accessibility of this versatile profession. Gone are the days when you had to build a curriculum around work or children; you can complete an online degree program where and when you desire. With so many programs available online, getting started may seem daunting. Learn how to pick the right school, what to ask, and the benefits and drawbacks of online paralegal degrees before you choose.

Paralegals are essentially the right hand of the attorney and firm, providing invaluable assistance getting case files organized, research completed, and legal documents created and filed. That is just the CliffsNotes version - the paralegal job description is as diverse as the employment opportunities available to the online graduate. Depending on where and for whom you work, you may be investigating case discrepancies, researching backgrounds, preparing files for court presentation, or even accompanying a lawyer to client meetings involving things like taking a deposition.

There is not a nationalized educational or certificate standard of practice for a paralegal. Some paralegals naturally develop after years of work in a law firm. Others receive formal education in the form of a certificate, associate, or bachelor's degree program. Obtaining an online paralegal degree may make the difference in getting started as this profession grows in both popularity and competition. A degree or certificate is also required in most cases if you choose to get certified within the profession.

The length of the program and degree awarded by each online program vary. Certificate programs are usually brief, providing from a few weeks to a few months of concentrated paralegal education. Online associate degree programs are offered in both the arts and sciences for paralegals, and usually take one to two years for completion online. Some of these programs transition into bachelors of Science paralegal programs, which are far less common and may take up to four years to complete. Unlike traditional university education, online classes move at a brisk pace and can be doubled or even tripled to hasten earning your degree.

While looking at online paralegal degree programs, be sure to ask what type of support the university or trade school offers. Financial assistance departments can help you with tuition planning, scholarships, and grants. Online schools are similar to traditional schools in that you will pay per credit hour for each class. You will also pay for online textbooks and other materials necessary to get started, such as a computer for classes, computer software, and Internet connectivity. Career assistance departments may help with job placement and internships, if available through online learning. Each program varies in the amount of credit hours required for the paralegal online degree as well as the prerequisites required. Finally, ask about the transferability of previous college or life experience credits, if applicable.

The most acclaimed benefit of paralegal degree online instruction is the ability to choose when, where, and how you want to take your classes, although there are myriad other benefits. Class "attendance" is based on checking into the class chat room, not physically appearing. Participation usually requires a certain number of responses, or posts, to other students or the class facilitator. If you are not someone who likes raising a hand in class, you may enjoy the anonymity of online schooling.

Some of the perks that make online degrees so appealing to one person may be disagreeable to another. Since there is not a physical class, you will not get face time or one on ones with your peers during online instruction. This may provide a challenge in networking or for individuals who need the motivation of others around them. If you are not organized or have little initiative, there is nothing forcing you to "go to class" or do your homework assignments. If you are not computer savvy, you may find the online and chat room etiquette daunting, as well as the thought of approaching your computer for class and homework.

The Pros and Cons of Online Paralegal Programs

It is wise to hesitate before putting all your eggs in one basket - online paralegal programs have pros and cons that every potential student should research. The online program is geared toward adults who require the convenience of distance learning while continuing to work, support a family, or manage multiple responsibilities along with schooling. However, the convenience of online programs may undermine the benefits of traditional classroom paralegal programs, especially in the eyes of the American Bar Association. Only you can decide which type of education fits your needs, but learn the benefits offered by each type of program before making a final decision.

Online paralegal programs offer the same degree choices as you find in a traditional four-walled setting, with one exception. The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Paralegals proffers that paralegal students cannot complete the majority of core classwork instruction through distance learning. The ABA approves certificate, associate, and bachelor's degree paralegal programs through a rigorous accreditation process. This process involves ensuring that core classes, specifically the legal courses, are offered in a face-to-face traditional learning format. Accreditation is a voluntary, respected process that speaks to the quality of the institution and paralegal program offered. For an online program to achieve the coveted ABA approval, it must maintain credit hours at a physical campus, allowing only a portion of online instruction to fulfill the requirements of the paralegal program.

Although you may still choose to attend a 100 percent online instructed program, be aware that the program will not be accredited by the ABA, regardless of any claims made to the contrary. This may not affect your performance or competence, but it can affect your ability to take certification exams through professional organizations such as the American Legal Professional Association, as well as deter your ability to join professional organizations, such as the American Bar Association, in the future. Furthermore, many of your prospective employers - attorneys - are members of the ABA. Your choice of school may make or break an employment offer if you are not already working as a paralegal.

Many students choose online programs for their convenience. However, if you are not motivated or computer savvy, this may not be the best learning method for you. To attend an online program you must be comfortable spending hours on the computer each week. Coursework requirements, including attendance, participation, reading class lectures, and turning in papers, are completed online. Furthermore, if you spend all day on a computer at your paying job, chances are your enthusiasm for spending even more time online in class will diminish rapidly.

A reliable Internet connection is a must. Just as "the dog ate my homework" won't work in a traditional classroom setting, "my Internet doesn't work" will not carry weight in the online paralegal program. You are responsible for your computer maintenance and Internet connection; if you live in a remote area or frequently cannot establish a connection, this method of instruction may not work. Conversely, if you are the technology-adoring type with multiple wireless devices at your fingertips, you may find the ability to "go to class" from your smartphone enchanting.

When weighing online and traditional programs, consider the amount of extracurricular support that is offered by each. Regardless of which type of educational institution you choose, research the school's credibility, support programs, and job placement services. Cost per credit hour will vary by school, as will the core coursework that supports the paralegal program. A quality school should offer at least job placement assistance or career counselors to assist you in getting started upon graduation. Better yet, look for a school that mandates an internship or apprenticeship in the paralegal field, which can help you gain on-the-job skills and develop professional relationships.

Are Online Paralegal Degrees All They Are Cracked Up to Be?

After reviewing the outrageously wonderful reviews of online paralegal degrees, you may wonder if they are too good to be true. The answer to this vital question is not so simple. You must explore your limitations and goals - only you can decide if the online degree will meet your needs. Distance learning has increased in popularity for a reason, which is primarily convenience. Explore some of the pitfalls of online degrees before paying for an education that may not help you achieve your career goals.

Look up online paralegal degrees and you will get over 600,000 responses or more depending on your search engine. The entirety of the virtual universities' online programs is missing one critical component - their programs are not approved by the American Bar Association, or ABA.

The ABA's Standing Committee on Paralegals mandates the type, setting, and amount of education provided by a school for ABA-level approval. Virtual universities cannot offer didactic education in a traditional classroom setting, which is what the ABA wants to see in future legal professionals. This is not to say that you cannot complete some or all of your education through online courses, because you can. However, the majority of core legal coursework must be completed in a classroom setting to attain ABA approval.

This may not affect you until after graduation, when positions are offered to ABA-approved grads or professional organizations do not recognize your online degree because it is not ABA approved. Furthermore, professional affiliations offer the certification exams for paralegals. Although you do not have to be a certified paralegal to practice, certification may help place you above your peers in this competitive career field.

Another myth surrounding online paralegal degrees is that they are easily obtainable, implying that you will not work as hard for the degree as your brick-and-mortar student counterparts. This myth largely depends on your choice of school. If you select an online school or university with an ABA-approved paralegal program, the distance-learning portion of your education will not be any easier than if you were sitting in a class. However, if you fall victim to one of the many online diploma mills or non-accredited schools that take your cash in exchange for a degree, then your education and coursework may be easily obtainable yet worthless.

Distance learning may present a challenge to individuals who are not motivated or comfortable in an online learning format. Although online classes are sometimes referred to as "self-paced," you will still face course deadlines for homework, reading, projects, and the end of class. You still have to "attend" class, although online classes can be "attended" during any time of the day that works in your schedule. You will also be required to check the class blog, which is the ongoing topic discussion for the class. Posting responses to these blogs is usually how you attain points for participation in class - if you are not comfortable posting or frequently logging into a chat-room-type environment, you may not enjoy online classes.

You may have to spend more money for online paralegal degrees. For one thing, you will still pay out-of-state fees for non-residents attending state schools. In addition to those fees, the online student must pay distance-learning fees, which give the student access to the university's web learning program and resources, such as the school library. You will need a functioning computer with high-speed Internet access. If you do not have these things, you will need to buy them out of pocket before the first day of class.

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