A paralegal is a person who is trained to provide assistance to attorneys. These individuals help attorneys with the legal work necessary to do their jobs well, such as research and writing, administrative work, and management of case loads. There are no strict educational requirements to meet to become a paralegal, but employers may prefer individuals who have a degree in paralegal studies or a related major. If you want to become a paralegal, you may decide that earning a paralegal degree gives you the best chance of landing the job you want or earning the highest pay. To meet your goal of earning a paralegal degree, you'll typically have to finish high school and then go on to earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in paralegal studies.
Though there are two paths to take to earn a paralegal degree, you'll usually need a high school education for both of them. In lieu of finishing high school and earning a diploma, however, you may also earn a general educational development (GED) diploma in preparation for college. During your high school years, you can prepare for your paralegal degree program by taking classes that help you build writing and public-speaking skills, both skills you'll need for your career as a paralegal. You may also prepare yourself for college and your career afterward by developing research skills.
Once you've earned a diploma from high school or secured an equivalent credential, you may choose to earn an associate's degree in paralegal studies at a community college, four-year college, or business school. You may choose this degree if you'd like to complete your education in less time, as you can typically earn an associate's degree in about two years. As you work to earn this paralegal degree, you will usually take courses in general educational topics as well as courses in your legal specialty. For example, you may take courses that cover topics such as litigation, legal research, and probate law.
Alternatively, you may choose to earn a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies from a college or university. This degree usually takes four years to complete, but earning it may make you a more attractive job candidate, help you to earn higher pay, or improve your chances of securing a promotion in your current job. As you work toward a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies, you'll usually complete a foundation of liberal arts studies as well as in-depth study of legal topics.
Though not as common as associate's and bachelor's degree programs, there are some master's degree programs in paralegal studies. These programs include advanced study of related legal topics and usually require about two to three years of additional education. You may also choose this option after working for a few years as part of a plan for career advancement.
It's important to note that some schools do not offer paralegal degree programs. In such a case, you might decide to major in a legal subject and minor in paralegal studies. For example, you may choose to major in criminal justice and minor in paralegal studies in preparation for a career as a paralegal.