Top Online Paralegal Programs for 2016

badge-editors-choiceParalegals are skilled legal assistants who free time for attorneys by performing delegated clerical tasks. Since the late 1960s, paralegals have become the backbone for most law firms and private practices. Paralegals improve the efficiency of legal services by helping lawyers prepare for hearings or trials. They conduct in-depth research on laws and regulations that are relevant to current cases. Other duties given to paralegals include gathering evidence, writing trial reports, drafting legal correspondence, requesting affidavits, filing appeals, reviewing trial transcripts, calling clients, arranging meetings, and maintaining reference files. Paralegals work behind the scenes to help lawyers shine before judges and jurors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are 279,500 paralegals working across the United States.

Now’s an excellent time for detail-oriented, tech-savvy, and organized individuals to consider becoming a paralegal. Law firms are pushing to reduce client billing costs by delegating services to paralegals. Therefore, employment of paralegals is expected to grow by 8 percent from 2014 to 2024, creating around 21,200 new jobs. That’s partially why the U.S. News ranked paralegal as the 15th best social services job nationwide. Paralegals also enjoy an average yearly salary of $52,390, good work-life balance, and above-average job satisfaction. Law offices typically only require paralegals to hold an associate degree. Some may prefer hiring paralegals with a bachelor’s degree and certificate in legal studies. All of these education routes are available online to make your career change more convenient.

Featured Paralegal Programs:

  1. AS in Legal Studies – Herzing University
  2. AAS in Legal Support & Services – Kaplan University
  3. BA in Legal Studies: Paralegal Profession – Brandman University
  4. BS in Legal Studies – Kaplan University
  5. Pathway to Paralegal Postbaccalaureate Certificate – Kaplan University

Ranking the Best Paralegal Schools for Online Students

To create our list of the 10 best online paralegal programs, we began by focusing on legitimate colleges or universities granting paralegal studies predominantly online. Coursework had to be at least 75 percent online for learning flexibility. We ensured that every college was accredited by one of the six regional agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Accreditation is essential for earning financial aid, credit transfer, and recognition by law firms after graduation. From there, we used the directory of paralegal programs on the American Bar Association’s website to start narrowing down. Priority was given to ABA-approved certificate, associate, or bachelor’s programs primarily online. Paralegal programs had to be taught by experienced attorneys holding J.D. or Ph.D. degrees.

School reputation was another major factor in our listing. We reviewed rankings published by the U.S. News and World Report survey. Preference was given to universities recognized nationally for top online learning. Rankings from the Princeton Review, Washington Monthly, and Forbes were also consulted. Affordability is crucial for college education, so we looked for tuition rates that average under $10,000 per term. We focused on online paralegal studies giving coursework in a variety of legal specialties. Other aspects we considered for our ranking were student engagement, resources, virtual interaction, flexible start dates, internships or applied projects, career services, and multiple degree offerings. Without further ado, the following are our top 10 schools in the United States for online paralegal programs.

1. University of California, Berkeley

UCBerkeleyCampus
Certificate Program in Paralegal Studies
The University of California, Berkeley is the Golden State’s flagship public, land-grant RU/VH research institution with a legendary history tracing back to 1868. From its main 1,232-acre urban campus atop the Berkeley Hills on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay, UC Berkeley educates more 38,200 on-site and online students. The U.S. News ranked Berkeley as America’s 20th best university and 1st top public school. Forbes lauded UC Berkeley as the #1 best value college nationwide. According to the Princeton Review, the University of California, Berkeley also has the 24th “Best Career Placement” services. Berkeley Law is particularly acclaimed for having the country’s eighth best legal degrees, including the #1 intellectual property law specialization.

UC Berkeley’s prestige, affordable tuition, and resources made it our top pick for online paralegal programs. Within the UC Berkeley Extension, students can pursue the Certificate Program in Paralegal Studies fully online or in a hybrid format. The six-month program covers all of California’s requirements for practicing paralegals. Online students benefit from completing 360 hours of instruction delivered by licensed attorneys. The certificate requires passing two required courses and three electives with a minimum 2.0 GPA. Coursework will delve into legal writing, business law, contract law, criminal law, tort law, and paralegal procedures. All texts, lectures, and exams are made accessible on the ParaStudent website. Total program costs are estimated at $7,000. Prerequisites are a high school diploma or GED and basic Internet skills.

Program Website

2. Boston University

BostonUniversitycampus
Online Paralegal Studies Program
Known for producing seven Nobel Laureates, Boston University is an elite private, non-sectarian research institution within the Association of American Universities (AAU). Regionally accredited by the NEASC, BU educates more than 33,400 students in 18 schools. Since 1839, BU’s 135-acre urban campus has been a fixture in Boston’s Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood along the Charles River. With America’s #1 best online criminal justice programs, BU is crowned the 41st best national university and 33rd top college for veterans by the U.S. News. Boston University houses the country’s 20th best law school and the #2 best healthcare law program. The Times Higher Education went a step further to name BU the 64th top university worldwide.

At Boston University, the Center for Professional Education delivers a 14-week Online Paralegal Studies Program that’s identical to its classroom-based certificate. Online students can enroll for start dates six times per year. The program draws on the real-life experience of practicing lawyers to introduce future paralegals to essential legal theory. Emphasis is placed on the core skills of writing, research, technology, and litigation. Online content is split into convenient, focused modules that are accessible 24/7 through Blackboard. Topics addressed will range from family law and real estate law to business law. The all-inclusive program price is $3,995 because costly textbooks aren’t required. Interest-free financing is available for six months via PayPal. For admission, it’s preferred that students have a bachelor’s degree or significant work experience. An online learning course demo is available beforehand.

Program Website

3. University of Miami

MiamiUniversitycampus
Online Paralegal Certificate Program
Endowed for $887 million, the University of Miami is a large private, non-sectarian research powerhouse split into 12 distinct colleges to enlighten more than 16,700 students. Established over 90 years ago, UM occupies a 239-acre main campus in Coral Gables within Miami-Dade County just six miles from downtown. With a student-faculty ratio of 11:1, UM is distinguished by the U.S. News as the 51st best national university and 41st top college for veterans. Forbes gave the University of Miami a financial grade of “B” for America’s 165th best value. UM was previously ranked #1 for “Lots of Race/Class Interaction” by the Princeton Review. Miami offers enrollment into the 60th best ABA-accredited law school nationwide.

The Office of Professional Advancement at UM grants a flexible Online Paralegal Certificate Program. Busy working adults receive the same, high-quality educational training as in-class students in Coral Gables. With a total price of $6,995, the program appreciates diversity by having English and Spanish courses. Online learners receive manuals, workbooks, lecture notes, and resources through LexisNexis. Access to Westlaw is included. The four-month curriculum was designed by Alyssa Navallo, a paralegal recognized by the U.S. Senate. Students progress through modules centered on government structure, legal analysis, litigation, ethics, court rules, pleading preparation, and legal writing. Before enrolling, students take an online test drive to quiz their career interests. It’s also possible to add Paralegal Specialist Certificates in Bankruptcy Law, Immigration Law, Personal Injury, or Administrative Law.

Program Website

4. George Mason University

GMUcampus
Paralegal Certificate Online
First opened in 1949, George Mason University is a relatively young public, research institution named in honor of a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention. Just 19 miles from the country’s legal epicenter in Washington DC, Mason is located on an 854-acre suburban campus in Fairfax, Virginia. Each year, GMU enrolls approximately 33,900 on-campus and online students in 170 academic programs. The U.S. News lauded Mason for being the 135th best university and 68th top public school nationally. Forbes named George Mason University as America’s 180th best value. According to the Princeton Review, GMU also has the 22nd “Top Internship Opportunities.” The George Mason Law is especially renowned for the nation’s fourth best part-time legal degrees.

For 34 years, the Center for Legal Studies has conferred a Paralegal Certificate to produce beginning to advanced legal assistants. Now, GMU offers this same intensive training fully online with asynchronous courses. Students pay a $1,189 fee to enroll within the 14-week certificate. The program will include guided instruction from experienced faculty and interaction with peers on discussion boards. George Mason has National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) membership for quality curricula. Online coursework will explore legal process, torts, contracts, legal research, appellate procedure, and law office administration. Every week, students in the Paralegal Certificate Online must submit short answer and essay exams on reading materials. The course wrap-up offers job hunting and interviewing assistance too. Each seminar provides 90 contact hours or 9.0 CEUs.

Program Website

5. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College

smwccampus
Paralegal Studies Associate Degree Online
As the oldest Roman Catholic school in Indiana, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College was founded in 1840 by the Sisters of Providence as a four-year private liberal arts institution. Highly regarded for its new Aspire Higher Initiative, SMWC educates approximately 1,600, including 600 online learners. SMWC is nestled on a beautiful 67-acre suburban campus near Terre Haute between the Wabash River and the Illinois border. The college’s regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). Saint Mary-of-the-Woods is currently ranked the 21st best Midwestern college with the 212nd best online bachelor’s programs by the U.S. News. With a student-faculty ratio of 8:1, SMWC students has received the “Military Friendly” designation from Victory Media.

Woods Online allows students to propel their law career with an Paralegal Studies Associate Degree through the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. This two-year program requires at least 39 major credits to develop sound investigative, organization, writing, and interviewing skills for legal assisting. The majority of coursework is completed online, but 10 credits of face-to-face learning is required for ABA approval. Courses are enriched with Westlaw for hands-on database experience. Online learners are welcomed in SMWC’s Lamda Epsilon Chi Honor Society with a minimum 3.5 paralegal GPA. Students could also pursue the Paralegal Studies Major for a four-year bachelor’s degree online. Tracks are offered in Litigation or Personal Law before a 150-hour culminating field practicum. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College charges $496 per online credit.

Program Website

6. Drury University

DruryUniversitycampus
Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies
Like Dartmouth and Yale, Drury University is a private, non-profit liberal arts institution founded by Congregationalist missionaries from the United Church of Christ in 1873. Along with 3,100 online learners, Drury enrolls approximately 2,050 full-time students. Spread across 88 urban acres, Drury is located in Springfield, Missouri’s third largest city, near Route 66. The U.S. News acclaimed Drury University as the 11th best college and third top value in the Midwest. Drury is consistently included within the Princeton Review’s “Best Midwestern” schools. The Institute of International Education chose Drury among its 13 institutions of excellence. With a freshman retention rate of 83 percent, Drury University was an Honorable Mention for Time magazine’s best liberal arts college.

Fully online with no campus trips, Drury offers an Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies within the College of Continuing Professional Studies (CCPS). This two-year, 60-credit program contains at least 27 credits of paralegal coursework. Online students build the foundation of legal reasoning skills to assist lawyers in court cases. Coursework will cover various specialties, including real estate, business, family, civil litigation, estate planning, and criminal law. Web-based learning via Blackboard allows flexible studying from anywhere. In the final semester, students work with a coordinator to find a practicum placement in their hometown. Online tuition at Drury University costs just $299 per semester credit. Free online tutoring is available for aspiring paralegals using SmartThinking.com. Some courses also use Second Life to create virtual law office experiences and role paying simulations.

Program Website

7. University of Great Falls

UGreatFallscampus
Associates in Paralegal Studies Online
As an accredited private, non-profit Roman Catholic liberal arts institution, the University of Great Falls was founded in 1932 by Bishop Edwin Vincent O’Hara. Affiliated with the Ursuline Sisters, UGF serves more than 1,300 students in six schools. Along with its main 44-acre suburban campus in Great Falls on the upper Missouri River basin, UGF offers courses at 32 sites in Montana, Wyoming, Alberta, and online. The U.S. News and World Report ranked UGF the 29th best regional college for the West. Washington Monthly lauded the University of Great Falls as the 215th best Western bang for the buck. For three straight years, UGF has also been awarded the “Military Friendly” status by Victory Media.

The University of Great Falls stands among the best paralegal schools approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) for distance learning. The two-year Associates in Paralegal Studies program is predominantly online with only 10 credits of legal specialty coursework on-campus in Montana. Online students can take real-time, live courses on Lync or asynchronous classes through Moodle. Access is granted to 80 electronic databases, including WestLaw and ProQuest Criminal Justice. All budding paralegals must complete an internship placement in a law firm, judge’s office, or government agency. Current tuition at UGF is $766 per credit. Those enrolling in the Army Paralegal Program after Army 27D10 AIT training have a discounted rate of $250 per credit. There’s also a four-year Bachelor of Science in Legal and Paralegal Studies available primarily online.

Program Website

8. Eastern Kentucky University

Keen_Johnson_Building_at_Eastern_Kentucky_University
Online Paralegal Studies (A.A.S.)
Eastern Kentucky University, formerly named Central University, is a public, state-funded research institution accredited by the SACS to deliver over 40 online degrees. EKU’s main 892-acre rural campus is in Richmond, the Bluegrass region’s third largest city. Satellite locations are operated in Corbin, Hazard, Danville, Manchester, Lancaster, Somerset, and virtually. Each year, EKU enrolls more than 16,500 students with a retention rate of 66 percent. The U.S. News ranks Eastern Kentucky University as the 76th best college and 35th top public school in the South with America’s 63rd best online bachelor’s. Twice, EKU has landed among Military Times EDGE magazine’s top 10 schools for veterans. Washington Monthly also crowned EKU the South’s 136th best bang for the buck.

EKU Online offers a Paralegal Studies (A.A.S.) partially online for an associate degree in two years full-time. This ABA-approved program gives the flexibility to satisfy all coursework online except for 10 credit hours. Students only need to travel to Richmond for a two-week residency. At just $400 per credit, online learners tailor their 64-credit curriculum to gather the skills for trial preparation. Coursework delves into litigation, evidence, legal administration, legal writing, criminal law, probate, bankruptcy practice, and estate planning. Online classes start every eight weeks with learner-focused faculty who hold J.D. degrees. As a member of the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAFPE), EKU also confers a Paralegal Science (B.A.) program partially online. Completing a six-week internship is required for both programs.

Program Website

9. Regent University

Regentcampus
Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Paralegal Studies
Established by CBN televangelist Pat Robertson in 1961, Regent University is a private, evangelical Christian research institution that’s accredited by the SACS and ABA. Physically located on a 70-acre suburban campus in Virginia Beach, Regent is well-known for online education in over 65 courses of study. Total enrollment exceeds 6,100 yearly in Regent’s eight academic schools. The award-winning School of Law continually ranks in the top 10 schools for moot court programs with Harvard and Yale. According to the U.S. News, Regent delivers the 17th best online bachelor’s degrees in the United States. The Open Education Database placed Regent University second place nationally for best online studies. Regent is also included in America’s “20 Best Conservative Colleges.”

At Regent University, the College of Arts & Sciences houses a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Paralegal Studies program that’s exclusively online. Building on a solid Christian foundation, this 120-credit degree develops indispensable legal professionals to manage case files in law firms. Online students complete 49 credits of general education, 39 credits of major courses, and 32 credits of electives. Coursework will range from civil litigation and judicial process to personal injury law and family law. Legal studies are only delivered by J.D.-holding, practicing attorneys for real-world knowledge. Online programs at Regent cost $395 per credit hour. Classes are conveniently in eight-week sessions for accelerated degree paths. If desired, B.S. students could declare a minor in American Government, Criminal Justice, Information Systems, or Political Philosophy.

Program Website

10. Liberty University

LibertyUniversitycampus
Associate of Arts in Paralegal Studies Online
Liberty University is a private, non-profit Christian institution affiliated with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia since being founded in 1971 by pastor Jerry Falwell. Sprawling across 7,000 vast acres, Liberty is located in Lynchburg near Roanoke on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In addition to its 14,000 campus-based students, Liberty serves over 100,000 online learners. Featuring dual SACS and TRACS accreditation, Liberty University caps class sizes at 25 to facilitate professor interaction. The U.S. News ranked it the 80th best regional college with the 100th best online bachelor’s programs nationwide. Forbes gave Liberty a “B” financial grade as America’s 391st top private college. Liberty’s Christian Law School also has the #1 highest Bar Exam pass rate in Virginia.

The LU School of Lifelong Learning holds an Associate of Arts in Paralegal Studies Online program for students to jump-start their legal career. Within the 60-credit curriculum, students develop competency in various areas of law from a moral, Biblical perspective. Online courses will cover rhetoric, philosophy, literature, Christian thought, government, legal research, real estate transaction, tort law, civil practice, and criminal law. At least 15 credits must be taken at Liberty, but other credits could transfer or be granted for life experience. Tuition for the A.A. is $375 per credit hour. Textbooks can be rented through MBS Direct online. This program is ideal for paralegals, legal assistants, law clerks, title examiners, and claims adjusters. Online students can also seamlessly transition into the Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies program.

Program Website

Find Your Career’s Footing in Legal Services

Spending years and lumps of money to attend law school isn’t necessarily required for a rewarding legal career. You’ve likely heard this popular phrase; “Behind every great lawyer is a great paralegal.” Paralegals assume many administrative tasks for aiding licensed attorneys in virtually every legal avenue. From drafting contracts to interviewing witnesses, paralegals make certain their employers are well-prepared for winning in the courtroom. One of the best parts of becoming a paralegal is the limited college requirements. Having an associate or bachelor’s degree is sufficient rather than the arduous Juris Doctor. Plus, many online colleges are now offering paralegal studies virtually for more convenient schooling. You can sharpen your legal research and writing skills from anywhere with little or no classroom visits. Consider these top 10 online paralegal programs when searching for your right college fit.

Sources:
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes232011.htm
http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges
http://www.princetonreview.com/college-search
http://apps.americanbar.org/legalservices/paralegals/directory/allprograms.html
http://www.paralegals.org/default.asp?page=62
https://www.nala.org/about-paralegals
http://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/paralegal