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Legal Certifications and Certificates

Learn about certificate programs for individuals who want to prepare for the legal profession. Read on for prerequisites, coursework and voluntary certification information.

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Essential Information

At the certificate level, programs in the legal field offer legal assistant and paralegal education. Paralegals work with attorneys in law offices, corporations and governmental agencies. They are responsible for providing assistance in the investigation, organization and analysis of information used during legal proceedings or for legal matters.

Certificate programs are offered by colleges and universities and some career and technical schools that specialize in paralegal studies. Programs may last as little as seven months or up to two years. Many programs are offered through a school's department of continuing education or department of professional studies, and some are available online. These programs might provide the training necessary for professional certification.

Educational Prerequisites

A high school diploma or equivalent is typically required for admission to paralegal programs. Some programs require a letter of recommendation and a passing score on a writing test.

Program Coursework

Programs cover writing for the legal profession, technology used in legal work and various aspects of the law. Courses include:

  • Legal research
  • Legal writing
  • Civil litigation
  • Real estate law
  • Corporate law
  • Criminal law
  • Family law and probate
  • Litigation
  • Computer-based research

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Paralegals are increasingly taking on a wider range of responsibilities, especially as law firms and corporations try to create efficiencies and reduce costs; many paralegals are taking on tasks formerly performed by lawyers because they can perform the tasks at a cheaper rate. Employment for paralegals and legal assistants was projected to grow at a rate of 18% during the 2010-2020 decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As of May 2012, the median annual salary for paralegals and legal assistants was reported at $46,990 by the BLS.

Certification and Continuing Education

Several organizations offer voluntary professional certification. The National Association of Legal Secretaries (www.nals.org ) offers three levels of certification to those who meet the eligibility requirements and pass the exam. Paralegals and legal assistants might consider completing a degree program. Because job competition is expected to continue in this field, according to the BLS, those with a degree or extensive experience might have an advantage. The National Association of Legal Assistants (www.nala.org) provides certification for those who have completed a degree program.

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