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In Shakespeare’s Henry the VI, a group of rebels getting their initial taste of power vow “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” – which just goes to show, attorneys have been shaking things up for a long time now.

Many prospective law students in recent years have wondered “Is a law degree worth it?”, especially in light of the hit the legal profession took in the Great Recession of 2008. The legal industry suffered greatly due to the lack of work and many major law firms closed as a result. During that time and the years following, many aspiring law students found themselves asking “is a law degree worth it?” Those who hung on and finished their degrees found that yes, a law degree is indeed worth it as the industry recovered and non-traditional areas of employment for lawyers and paralegals started opening up. 

Lawyers and paralegals enter into the field of law because they have a passion for helping people find justice or resolution during their worst moments in life. It’s a job that requires the patience for legal research, an affinity for problem solving, the passion for taking a position and standing behind it, and acting as an advocate for people who would otherwise unable to obtain justice. 

Someone who carries these passions in their heart and mind is well-suited to become a paralegal and make their career in the legal world. It is always a good time to become a lawyer or paralegal because the public at large will always need help, retirement of older lawyers and paralegals means there will always be positions to be filled, and there will always be changes in the laws that need to be understood by legal professionals. 

Most Popular Schools with Online Law & Legal Studies Degree Programs

In-Demand Jobs for Online Accredited Law & Legal Studies Degrees:

OccupationsJob OpeningsMedian SalaryTypical Entry Level Education
Lawyers45,700$145,300Doctoral or professional degree
Paralegals and Legal Assistants40,400$55,020Associate’s degree
Compliance Officers30,700$72,850Bachelor’s degree
Loan Officers29,900$76,200Bachelor’s degree
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists8,200$59,910Bachelor’s degree
Legislators4,300$49,440Bachelor’s degree
Forensic Science Technicians2,400$63,170Bachelor’s degree
Law Teachers, Postsecondary2,200$129,950Doctoral or professional degree
Legal Studies Teachers, Postsecondary1,700$72,980Doctoral or professional degree
Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Magistrates1,500$128,550Doctoral or professional degree
Source: 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Most Affordable Online Law & Legal Studies Degree Programs

What Do Lawyers and Paralegals Do?

Lawyers, and their support staff known as paralegals, help clients with their particular legal issue. The issue can be anything ranging from bankruptcy to criminal defense. The role of the lawyer is to help clients navigate the law and take legal actions on behalf of their clients in a manner that is beneficial to the client. Some legal issues are procedural in that the paperwork involved is complex and is difficult to understand by a layperson. Handling legal issues requires a strong understanding of the laws, how to apply them, and how not to make a situation worse than it already is.

When looking at what does a paralegal do in comparison with what does a lawyer do, the lines become somewhat blurred. A paralegal is qualified to perform depositions, write legal documents for all sections of law, review contracts, perform legal research, communicate with clients, keep a lawyer’s calendar, and more. In light of all of the work a paralegal performs on behalf of a lawyer and the law office, asking “what does a lawyer do?” is valid. 

So, what does a lawyer do? The lawyer can do all of the work that a paralegal can, but the purpose of a paralegal is to take care of repetitive tasks and handle clerical and administrative work so the lawyer can focus on the needs of their clients. Paralegals can and do converse with clients, but it’s the lawyer’s job to lay out potential strategies and outcomes, help clients make decisions, advocate for a client in a court of law on either the plaintiff’s or defendant’s side, and negotiate with opposing parties. A lawyer is most effective when they have someone taking care of specific tasks that are vital to the operating of a law firm and frees the lawyer to handle complex tasks that a paralegal isn’t qualified to handle.

How Do I Become a Lawyer?

The first step in learning how to become a lawyer is to earn an undergraduate degree. The undergraduate degree can be in any topic of study, but most advice given is to earn a bachelors in legal studies prior to learning how to become a lawyer. An undergraduate degree in legal studies provides you with the skills needed to become a lawyer and helps prepare you for taking the LSAT, a test required for admission to law school. If your aim is to attend a prestigious law school, you need to study thoroughly for the LSAT and earn high scores. Law schools take LSAT scores into account when admitting a student into a law degree program. 

If you’re not sure about what skills are needed to be a lawyer, you should ask yourself if you possess certain aptitudes. Do you enjoy the concept of researching law and comprehending the materials in order to use them to your advantage? Are you comfortable with defending or attacking someone’s perception of the law, their memory of a situation, or their assertion that they are telling the truth? Is clear communication something you make a point of engaging in? Last, but not least, are you a detail-oriented person who has the patience to double-check your work and make sure you haven’t missed anything? If most of these apply to you, then you have many of the skills needed to be a lawyer. 

How Do I Become a Paralegal? 

Studying to learn how to become a paralegal has a few different options for a student. A paralegal can earn a certificate, associate’s degree or earn a bachelor’s of legal studies and find employment as a paralegal. Just how long does it take to become a paralegal? You can learn how to become a paralegal in a few months of study for a certificate, two years for an associate’s degree, or four years for a bachelor’s. It’s worth noting that the longer a student studies how to become a paralegal, the better their education and job prospects upon graduation. 

If you’re not sure if the paralegal profession is for you, you can always go to school to earn a paralegal certificate. The paralegal certificate enables you to draft legal documents, handle legal software, communicate professionally with clients, and perform legal research. It is by no means a complete education when compared to the associate’s degree in paralegal studies, but it does give students a look at what working in the legal industry is like. 

What Can You Do with a Law or Legal Studies Degree?

It’s worth noting that a law or legal studies degree is not the same as a juris doctorate or JD. The JD is earned after earning a bachelors in a related or unrelated field of study. That’s not to say there are no jobs with a legal studies degree. In fact, there are plenty of jobs for students who have earned a legal studies degree. The general employment trend for companies with legal departments is to hire people with a legal studies degree for a majority of legal needs and keep lawyers on retainer for the times the work has to be completed by someone with a JD. 

Jobs with a legal studies degree are ones that are looking for people who have training in negotiations, contracts, the ability to communicate clearly with stakeholders from different fields, research and draft paperwork for legal processes, and can prepare materials to submit to regulatory agencies. Students who earn their degree in legal studies are well-positioned to work in jobs and perform duties that were once performed by lawyers. Businesses across many fields need people who understand regulatory laws and how to maintain compliance. Paralegals and people with legal studies degrees are considered ideal candidates due to their legal knowledge and ability to handle paperwork. 

Degree Types: Associates, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctoral 

Accredited Online Associate’s

An associates degree in paralegal or legal studies helps students prepare for working in a law office setting. Students who want to get the most out of their studies should pick a program that offers an internship. Students who have real-life experience preparing legal documents and performing other related tasks are well-positioned to for employment once they finish their studies and earn a degree. Someone who has earned a paralegal certificate and is working can benefit from getting an associate degree in legal studies online to advance their career.  

Accredited Online Bachelor’s

A bachelors degree in legal studies opens more doors for someone who wants to be more than a paralegal, but doesn’t want to commit to law school. The four-year legal studies program offers a deep dive into areas of the law that aren’t typically covered in an associates degree program. Some schools offer students the option to focus on specific areas of the law that enable them to work in a particular branch of law instead of as a generalist. 

Students who are employed and want to earn a bachelors in legal studies should look at enrolling in an online legal studies bachelor degree program. Many schools offer accelerated programs so a student can push their career further in less time. Students who don’t have a lot of spare time for school also benefit from attending a bachelor in legal studies online program that’s designed to be flexible. 

Accredited Online Master’s

A masters in legal studies (MLS) provides students with the opportunity to concentrate on a specific area of the law or focus on legal concepts and principles to become more effective as a paralegal or in a career field that deals with legal issues on a regular basis. The MLS does not allow a graduate to become a lawyer as the MLS doesn’t teach a student the necessary skills to pass the bar exam and become a lawyer. However, a working legal professional can enhance their career and increase their earning potential by earning a masters in legal studies online or in-person. 

Doctorate

Doctorate degrees for legal studies are typically juris doctorate programs to become a lawyer. But earning a JD doesn’t require finding employment as a lawyer. Students who want to work at the higher levels of the law profession, but not as a lawyer, can find many employment options that satisfy their need to work in the field of law without representing clients. Working professionals can take advantage of online law degree programs that enable them to earn their JD and go on to work in the legal industry. An online JD degree is considered as valid as an in-person education provided the program is ABA accredited. 

Accreditation

A school that has a legal studies program should also have accreditation from one of the national accrediting bodies. There are accrediting bodies for paralegal, legal, and law schools alike. Paralegal programs are accredited by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) or the ABA. The American Bar Association (ABA) is the major accrediting body for law schools across the nation and sets the standards for legal education. Attending accredited ABA law schools ensures that students get the best possible education and that their education will serve them well throughout their career. The ABA also accredits online law schools in order to enable professionals to return to school without the need to physically attend a school campus. 

Certifications and Licensure

After a student has graduated and earned their juris doctorate, they have to sit for the bar exam and pass in order to practice as an attorney. The bar exam consists of a national and state-specific portion and students have to pass both portions in order to be allowed to practice law in their state. All states require lawyers to be licensed to practice law in order to show the public at large that the lawyer is capable of practicing law according to state standards. State licensing boards also handle complaints against lawyers along with any and all disciplinary actions. 

There are no state requirements anywhere in the U.S. for paralegal licensing. Federal law absolves paralegals from needing licensing as they are only able to work under the supervision of a lawyer. The only thing a paralegal student needs to make sure of is that the school they attend has a good reputation in the legal industry and that, if attending school online, the paralegal certification online programs are accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting organization. 

Scholarships for Law and Legal Studies Students

Legal studies scholarships help students pay for their tuition and make getting higher education more affordable. There are numerous scholarships for legal studies students to choose from. The ABA alone offers multiple scholarships that include the ABA Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund, Insler & Hermann Disabled Law Student Scholarship and the WardGreenberg Diversity Scholarship Program. Many scholarships are offered by law firms and include an internship at the awarding law firm as well as further scholarship funds for schooling after the internship. Legal studies scholarship criteria range from general to specific, but students who want to save money on their education should apply for scholarships and take advantage of the benefits they provide. 

Related:

Best Online Associate’s in Criminal Justice

Best Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice

Best Online Master’s in Criminal Justice

Best Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice