Since paralegals have only been around as a prominent profession since really the 1970s, and grew somewhat organically from a need within the industry for basic, non-specialized legal work, the nature of formal paralegal education has been slow in becoming uniform.
This lack of consistent academic requirements can be linked directly to the nebulous definition of what a paralegal is. And if the time comes where the position of paralegal becomes more regulated than it is now, then education will almost certainly become a prerequisite for licensing.
Formal paralegal education can be acquired on a number of levels, depending primarily on the prospective paralegal’s level of education. Typically, associates degrees can be acquired over a very limited period of time, sometimes after only a year (it depends entirely on the level and amount of coursework required, and the ability for the student to commit full time or part time to their education).
Less common, but still very viable, are bachelors degrees in paralegal studies. Often, people hiring in the paralegal industry will look to an applicant’s background to determine suitability based on the kind of legal work that their firm operates in, so a varied liberal arts background offered by a bachelors degree will always appear more lucrative than an associate degree focusing strictly on paralegal work.
Masters degrees are also available in paralegal studies, but are often not as popular because of their typically elevated cost. However, masters degrees, combined with bachelors degrees, make potential applicants for paralegal positions more attractive than those with only bachelors or associates.
Finally, some paralegals also enter into the field after acquiring a law degree but have not passed the bar.