Gain a competitive advantage in your legal career with the practical, experience-based start you’ll get with SMC's paralegal degree.
Whether you want to work as a paralegal or have aspirations of becoming an attorney and defending the innocent in court, championing for legal change, or deciding the country’s most pressing issues, our paralegal degree will equip you with the legal expertise and experience to get you there.
About the Paralegal Degree
The paralegal program lays a strong foundation in legal practices with hands-on exercises to reinforce classroom learning. If you want to work as a paralegal or continue to eventually attend law school and become a lawyer or judge, the paralegal degree offers a strong and affordable start.
As a paralegal student, you’ll gain an understanding of the U.S. legal system, the roles of various legal professionals, and the effect of legal ethics on the practice of law. Next you’ll learn about legal resources and research methods, gaining practice writing legal documents such as opinion letters, motions, appellate briefs, and more. You’ll explore the criminal and civil litigation processes, tort law, and, depending on the track chosen, estate planning and bankruptcy.
You’ll graduate prepared for either entry-level work as a paralegal or ready for transfer to a four-year school having completed the first two years of a bachelor’s degree.
Southwestern Michigan College offers two paralegal degrees: the Associate in Applied Science and the Associate in Arts.
Associate in Applied Science
The Associate in Applied Science is a two-year degree for those who want to work as a paralegal. After an introduction to the legal system, the paralegal field, legal research, and ethics, you’ll learn the “Big 3” fields of law: estate planning, bankruptcy, and litigation, including personal injury. Your education will be capped with practical experience applying what you’ve learned in the classroom in an internship. Graduates are qualified to enter the workforce immediately.
Licensing is generally not required for employment as a paralegal, but students are encouraged to seek national certification through the Paralegal Core Competency Exam as an extra credential for professional development.
Associate in Arts
The Associate in Arts is for those who want to eventually go to law school or who want to work as a paralegal in a specialized field of law. It is designed to transfer to four-year institutions for a bachelor’s degree in paralegal. A bachelor’s degree is not required for employment as a paralegal, but it introduces students to fields of law not covered in the two-year degree such as tax law, family law, and intellectual property law. A bachelor’s degree in paralegal can also be used to enter law school.
The Associate in Arts in paralegal is designed to meet Michigan Transfer Agreement (MTA) requirements so you can transfer seamlessly to Michigan universities. It may also transfer to universities in other states.
- What You’ll Learn
What Can I Do With a Paralegal Degree?
Graduates are equipped for entry-level work as a paralegal or to continue their studies in law-related fields, including those that lead to law school. In fact, students who study paralegal are often more prepared for law school because they have more direct experience with law than, for example, someone entering law school with a political science degree.
Paralegals perform essential functions for attorneys. They may draft wills, collect documents, prepare petitions, review clients’ records, and more. They often work in large law firms, but may also be hired by solo attorneys. They can also work as insurance claims adjusters or in corporate compliance. The State of Michigan has identified paralegal as a high-wage, high-demand “hot job” of the future.
Paralegals may not provide legal services directly to the public except as permitted by law.
Careers and Salaries Career Option Salary Paralegal: $51,740 Judges and Hearing Officers: $120,090 Lawyers: $122,960 Arbitrators, Mediators and Conciliators: $63,930
2019 median pay. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Alpha Beta Gamma Honor Society
Students have the opportunity to join Alpha Beta Gamma, a national honor society recognizing the high academic achievement of students in various programs, including paralegal.