Do You Need a Degree to Be a Paralegal?

To become a paralegal in the US, you do not have to have a college education.

However, a degree is one pathway to becoming a professional paralegal.


Find out when you need a degree to be a paralegal, and about those situations when a degree is unnecessary.

What Degrees Are For Paralegals?

To work as a full-time paralegal for a highly paid law firm, you will need to have a degree and professional training.

However, law firms also hire individuals not already trained in paralegal studies.

The difference starts with previous experience.

For those with experience in business administration, legal research, or as a court clerk, entry-level paralegal jobs are available.

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This is a prime opportunity for individuals to gain valuable work experience in the legal system without having a degree.

If you want to be a lawyer, attorney, or judge, you certainly need a couple of college degrees.

So, what college degrees are there for paralegals?

Paralegals can earn an associate’s degree, a two-year college program.

In addition, once they have earned an associate’s in the arts or sciences, paralegals can pursue a bachelor’s degree.

A bachelor’s degree is a four-year program typically focused on legal studies.

These degrees are also referred to as:

  • AAS (Associate of Applied Science)
  • AS (Associate of Science)
  • AA (Associate of Arts)
  • BS (Bachelor of Science)
  • BA (Bachelor of Arts)

Along with a traditional college degree, many schools and businesses now offer online and in-person paralegal certificates.

Students can earn a college associate’s degree and then pursue a certificate in paralegal studies.

What about master’s degrees in paralegal studies?

Yes, you can also earn a master’s degree in paralegal training.

However, such advanced degrees for paralegals are generally referred to in other terms.

Rather than a paralegal degree, a master’s of art (MA) or master’s of science (MS) is focused on law librarianship, legal research, or courtroom documentation.

Most paralegals at the master’s level are advancing toward taking the bar exam and becoming full-fledged lawyers or attorneys.

After a career as either of these law professionals, individuals advance toward work as a judge or legal researcher.

Who Is a Paralegal?

Most people working in paralegal jobs plan to one day become a lawyer, attorney, or judge.

Whether they are capable of doing so has to do with the level of education they attain.

The job of a paralegal is entry-level in the law field.

As a result, most paralegals are also in college studying to go to law school or in a similar area of expertise.

However, a college education is not required for paralegal jobs.

A paralegal works directly with lawyers, attorneys, clerks of courts, and judges, as well as law enforcement officers.

The job duties of paralegals focus on the paperwork and filing documents in a legal sense.

Paralegals are barred from providing legal advice to clients or serving in a lawyer’s role.

However, by working as a paralegal, you can earn a law degree and be ready to sit for the bar exam.

In addition, for law school students on the pathway to becoming a lawyer or attorney, these programs require students to work in a paralegal position.

In-person training is also required for online courses for paralegals.

Paralegal certification is required for students who plan on working for an attorney or lawyer.

Yet these certification programs also include internships with attorneys and lawyers, which allow students to work as paralegals without having a degree.

Do I Need a Degree to Be a Paralegal?

No, you will not always have to have a degree to work as a paralegal.

As noted previously, there are instances when you can work as a paralegal without any degree.

This includes:

  • Advanced career training in business administration leading to paralegal work
  • Internship for a paralegal certification course

While paralegals do not have to earn a paralegal degree before working in this area of law, they do need some applicable training and background experience.

Working in a business office or courtroom as a reporter are examples of such experience.

A passion and interest in law and the legal system are also important for paralegals working in the field.

If you are not interested in law, you will struggle sitting through depositions and reading endless books of courtroom notes.

Should you go to college before working as a paralegal?

Not necessarily, but you may find that advancing your education will help you earn more money and gain greater experience as a paralegal.

When Applying to a Certificate Program in Paralegal Studies

Students who are enrolling in a certificate program for paralegal studies will be required to have some training.

Colleges may expect students to have an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in a related field.

In most cases, a paralegal certificate program is an advanced specialization.

To be eligible to enroll in paralegal certification courses, applicants need to already have a degree or related certification.

For example, a college may require students to have a bachelor’s degree in paralegal training before they can enroll in the on-campus certification course.

A certification program in paralegal studies generally leads to the board certification exams.

Here is where students must sit for a professional board exam to earn certification for employment.

Several national associations provide paralegal certification exams.

However, students must present proof they have worked or interned with a law office as a paralegal for a certain number of hours to qualify for these exams.

Therefore, students must already be working as a paralegal before they are eligible to take any board certifications.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Professional Organizations Assist Paralegals in the US?

Here in the US, paralegals can explore memberships at several agencies.

These include the American Bar Association (ABA), the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), and the American Association for Paralegal Education.

Where is Certification for Paralegals Post a Degree Route?

Once a paralegal has earned a degree, they are ready to get certified.

This process requires paralegals to study and take a certification board exam.

Several agencies provide this certification.

Choose from the NALA, the Association for Legal Professionals, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, and the American Alliance of Paralegals Inc.

Each of these national associations for paralegal professionals has a stand-alone certification exam.

How Much Training is Required for Paralegals in Degree Programs?

According to the National Association of Legal Assistants, six months of training for paralegals is required for a person with a bachelor’s degree in a paralegal subject area.

Chelsea Wilson

About Chelsea Wilson

Chelsea Wilson is the Community Relations Manager for Washington University School of Law’s distance learning LLM degree program, which provides foreign trained attorneys with the opportunity to earn a Master of Laws degree from a top-tier American university from anywhere in the world.

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