Online Associate Degree in Paralegal

What You'll Learn & What's Next

An online associate degree in paralegal studies prepares students for paralegal jobs, earning an average of $50,000 per year. The degree also prepares graduates for a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies. Further, online paralegal associate degree programs offer students with full-time jobs and other responsibilities the opportunity to earn their degrees from home; they also benefit students who prefer an accelerated curriculum.

This page contains information about what to expect from an online associate paralegal degree program, and the careers and further education options available to associate degree-holders.

What Will You Learn in an Online Paralegal Associate Degree Program?

A typical online associate degree program includes foundational legal principles, along with general education subjects, such as English, math, and science. Core courses cover legal terminology and the court system, legal writing and research, civil procedure, and legal ethics and professional responsibility (e.g., confidentiality, conflicts of interest, financial issues). Students can also choose from electives in their areas of interest, such as criminal law, employment law, family law, and tax law.

Common Courses

While course titles and content vary by program, the list below outlines typical classes students encounter in an accredited online associate paralegal degree program.

Introduction to the Law

This class teaches students about the American legal system and introduces the areas and language of law. Students gain big-picture knowledge of the legal field and learn the terminology used in law offices. They also become familiar with the skills they need on the job, such as interviewing clients and reading cases.

Legal Research and Writing

Students learn skills used daily as paralegals, including researching statutes and case law in the law library and within electronic databases; analyzing and summarizing court decisions; employing correct citation style; and drafting documents using the requisite format, terms, and language.

Ethics and Professional Responsibility

This course introduces the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which govern all legal professionals. The class covers topics particularly important to paralegals, such as maintaining client confidentiality and avoiding the unauthorized practice of law.

Civil Litigation

In this course, students learn the hierarchy of the federal and state court systems, along with the rules of civil procedure that govern them. Students review evidence and draft court documents, such as pleadings, discovery requests and responses, pre-trial motions, and appeals.

Legal Practicum or Capstone

Practicums allow students to apply the knowledge they gained during the program through field experience (under the supervision of a practicing attorney). Weekly classroom seminars often supplement the onsite work. Completed at or near the end of a program, capstones consist of an academic paper or project that integrates what they have learned.

Core Skills

An online associate degree in paralegal studies provides students with skills and competencies needed to succeed either on the job or within a bachelor's or master's degree program:

  • Critical Thinking and Analysis
    Paralegals must often complete their work quickly and accurately. Learning to apply the correct law to the facts presented enables paralegals to assist attorneys in a timely manner.
  • Communication Skills
    Part of the paralegal job includes interviewing clients and synthesizing results. Paralegals must employ active listening and accurate notetaking skills, along with the ability to communicate orally and in writing.
  • Time Management and Prioritization
    Paralegals often work for several attorneys and/or on multiple projects with competing deadlines and must hone the skills to manage and prioritize their workload under pressure.
  • Professional Writing Skills
    A large part of the job consists of writing a variety of legal documents, including client memoranda, court briefs, and motions. Paralegals need clear and concise writing skills that employ the correct terms and citations.
  • Computer Competency
    Paralegals use online Westlaw and LexisNexis databases to research case law, statutes, and treatises. Many courts have moved to electronic filing, and paralegals need to be well-versed in using online systems.
  • Knowledge of Procedure and Process
    Paralegals must understand the rules of civil procedure, rules of evidence, and the trial process.

What Can You Do With an Associate Degree in Paralegal?

This section discusses career options for graduates from associate degree programs. While many employers may require bachelor's degrees, jobs and the potential for advancement do exist for entry-level paralegals and other support staff. Law firms and legal departments may also hire associate degree-holders working toward a higher degree so they can gain experience and take on more responsibilities over time.

Read on for a summary of opportunities, along with a listing of specific positions, typical duties, and average entry-level salaries.

Potential Careers and Salaries

Career paths for associate degree-holders in paralegal studies typically lead to a law firm or corporate legal department. Larger firms and departments may be more likely to hire entry-level paralegals where they can work under more experienced paralegals and learn the ropes.

Entry-level paralegals often work in a specific case area like researching for internal use, organizing evidence, or maintaining files. Other jobs available to those with associate degrees include legal assistants, legal secretaries, and legal administrative assistants in a law office or legal department. Courts and government offices may also need support staff.

Entry-Level Litigation Paralegal

Annual Average Salary: $38,031

These professionals assist attorneys in law offices by performing legal research; filing court documents; interviewing clients; drafting, reviewing and/or editing memoranda, pleadings, briefs, and other documents; and coordinating trial logistics.

Entry-Level Corporate Paralegal

Annual Average Salary: $48,126

In corporate legal departments, these professionals help attorneys prepare for corporate meetings by drafting contracts; reviewing government regulations; and assisting with annual reports, shareholder agreements, and stock-option plans.

Entry-Level Legal Assistant

Annual Average Salary: $35,601

As their title implies, legal assistants help lawyers with caseloads by conducting research, organizing evidence, drafting memoranda, scheduling interviews, taking meeting notes, preparing summaries and reports, screening calls, and performing administrative tasks.

Entry-Level Legal Secretary

Annual Average Salary: $36,100

Entry-level legal secretaries perform a number of secretarial and legal support duties: filing court documents, scheduling meetings, screening clients, typing and editing documents, accompanying attorneys to court and assisting at hearings and trials.

Entry-Level Legal Administrative Assistant

Annual Average Salary: $37,414

Legal administrative assistants support lawyers and paralegals by conducting research, ordering office supplies, making travel arrangements, managing calendars, drafting correspondence, and maintaining filing systems.

Sources: PayScale

What's Next After an Online Associate Degree in Paralegal?

An associate degree in paralegal studies can serve as a step toward a higher degree in paralegal studies or related fields. Associate degree credits can often be transferred to four-year programs. Students can pursue an online or evening bachelor's degree while leveraging their associate degree to gain work experience. Continue reading for information about transferring associate degree credits and potential bachelor's degree options.

Transferring to a Four-Year Degree Program

Students may decide to use their associate degree in paralegal studies as a stepping stone to a bachelor's degree. Most four-year programs work with associate degree-holders to transfer credits, helping them avoid duplicate courses. In fact, some schools offer formal transfer agreements between two- and four-year programs in the same region of the country. Students hoping to transfer credits should contact academic advisors at the bachelor's degree programs to which they plan to apply.

What Degrees Can You Pursue After Earning an Associate in Paralegal?

A bachelor's degree in paralegal studies may open doors to positions with more responsibility and pay. For example, a bachelor's degree in legal studies can serve as a stepping stone to law school, and a degree in political science can lead to jobs in policy, legislation, and consulting.

Bachelor's in Paralegal Studies

This degree builds on skills and knowledge one acquired in an associate degree. Courses include advanced research and writing, and students may usually specialize in a particular area of law.

Bachelor's in Legal Studies

A legal studies degree can lead to higher paying legal assistant or paralegal jobs, or it can lead to careers in arbitration and mediation. Many legal studies students earn this degree to prepare for law school.

Bachelor's in Political Science

Holders of these bachelor's degrees work on political campaigns, in policy analysis, and at government agencies. They also may run for public office or apply to law school.