Legal Career Guide: Give Online Legal Education a Fair Trial

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By Sarah Stevenson

From the paralegals and legal assistants who help attorneys on a daily basis to the judges who enforce the law in court, trained and educated law professionals are a vital part of our legal system at every level—and you don't necessarily need a J.D. from Harvard to join their ranks.

In fact, you can start working in many jobs in the legal field with just a certificate or an associate's degree. Not only that, more and more respectable schools are offering accredited online legal education programs.

Our guide to legal careers and degree programs can help you find the information you need to choose the legal education path that suits you best:

Degree Options

If you're scoping out distance education, you'll be pleased to know that the options are becoming more numerous for pursuing a legal education online. Besides certificates and associate's degrees, you can also earn a bachelor's degree in pre-law, paralegal, legal studies or court reporting. Even online master's degrees are available. Here are a few of the most popular degree options for those pursuing an online legal education:

  • Legal Assistant: A legal assistant generally provides administrative and clerical assistance to an attorney, either in court or in the law office.
     
  • Paralegal: A paralegal has many of the same duties as a legal assistant. They may also help lawyers prepare for hearings, draft legal documents, and even conduct interviews or investigations.
     
  • Court Reporter: The field of court reporting includes the transcription of trial proceedings, but it also encompasses written transcription of meetings, college classes, or TV broadcasts for the hard of hearing.

What You Should Know About Online Education

  • Accreditation: Not every legal education program is approved by the American Bar Association, but that doesn't mean you aren't getting a valuable education. If your school is properly accredited by an appropriate professional organization or a U.S. Department of Education-approved accreditation agency, you can be sure that the program adheres to consistent standards of quality.
     
  • Program Format: Another important consideration to keep in mind when you're researching online legal education is the structure of the program. Some are conducted fully online, while others are hybrid programs with some in-person requirements; some offer lectures in real time while others are asynchronous. You'll need to be aware not only of your scheduling needs but also your own study habits before you make a final decision about what kind of program will work for you.

Now that you've read the basics, are you ready to take the next step? Start researching online legal education schools by legal specialty or location today.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; National Association of Legal Assistants.