Paralegal Studies

Earn Your Paralegal Certificate from Duke University

Duke Continuing Studies has been proud to offer a Certificate in Paralegal Studies since 2003.  As the legal profession changes and learning platforms evolve, there are now three distinct paralegal certificate options for students to choose from to best meet their needs and career goals.

Paralegal Classroom programs:

The Paralegal Classroom Certificate, taught by practicing attorneys, is offered on Duke’s campus in Durham, NC. This NC Bar Qualified certificate program is designed for individuals who are seeking to reengineer a career change and their skill-set for a successful transition into the paralegal.  This certificate program is a comprehensive course of study designed to train students in the aspects of the profession most in demand and desired by attorneys.

Convenient for the working adult, this traditional five-month classroom program meets several evenings a week and occasional Saturdays, and it is offered each year in the spring and fall. 

Additionally, for non-working adults interested in a daytime and/or accelerated format, the Summer Intensive Paralegal program is available which gives students the opportunity to complete the program in only seven weeks.  Students who complete program requirements will be awarded a certificate of completion from Duke University Continuing Studies and will be eligible to apply for the State of NC Paralegal certification

Paralegal Online program

The Paralegal Online Certificate, created upon the foundation of the classroom program, is a 300-hour course of study designed to train students in the aspects of the profession most in demand and desired by attorneys. The curriculum is applicable to all 50 states, and is offered entirely online, as a self-paced program- therefore there are no defined due dates or deadlines.  Students have one year, under the supervision of a licensed attorney instructor, to complete the coursework in its entirety.

Students who complete program requirements will be awarded a certificate of completion from Duke University Continuing Studies.

Paralegal Specialist Online programs

Experienced paralegals can supplement their legal education with Paralegal Specialist Online programs.  Individuals can choose from 22 specialty areas of law and earn a unique and focused certificate to gain a competitive and professional edge.

Student who complete program requirements will be awarded a certificate of completion from Duke University Continuing Studies.

About the Paralegal Profession: 

What is a Paralegal?

A legal assistant or paralegal is a person qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible. (From the National Association of Legal Assistants website).

The terms legal assistant and paralegal are used interchangeably, much like the terms attorney and lawyer. The practice of law is regulated by each of the 50 states. In all states, paralegals are prohibited from practicing law without a license.

A legal assistant/paralegal cannot give legal advice, represent a client in court, set a fee, or accept a case - all of which are generally considered the practice of law. Working under the supervision of an attorney, the legal assistant's work product is merged and becomes part of the attorney's work product. In communication with clients and the public, the legal assistant's non-lawyer status must be clear. A legal assistant may perform any function delegated by an attorney, including but not limited to the following:

  • Conduct client interviews and maintain general contact with the client, so long as the client is aware of the status and function of the legal assistant, and the legal assistant works under the supervision of the attorney
  • Locate and interview witnesses
  • Conduct investigations and statistical and documentary research
  • Conduct legal research
  • Draft legal documents, correspondence, and pleadings
  • Summarize depositions, interrogatories, and testimony
  • Attend executions of wills, real estate closings, depositions, court or administrative hearings, and trials with the attorney
  • Author and sign correspondence provided the legal assistant status is clearly indicated and the correspondence does not contain independent legal opinions or legal advice
  • Professionally, a paralegal's time for substantive legal work (as opposed to clerical or administrative work) is billed to clients much the same way as an attorney's time, but at a lower hourly rate

The Paralegal Profession

Employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 17 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.  Most paralegals come to the profession from other careers. This has given the field a dynamic population that brings a multitude of life-long experiences to the field.

As law firms try to increase the efficiency of legal services and lower their expenses, they are expected to hire more paralegals and legal assistants. Some law firms are rethinking their project staffing and rebuilding their support staff by hiring paralegals, who may be given some of the administrative tasks previously assigned to legal secretaries.

Law firms also are attempting to reduce billing costs due to pressure from clients. Paralegals can be a less costly alternative to lawyers and can perform a wide variety of duties, including tasks once done by lawyers. This will cause an increase in demand for paralegals and legal assistants.

While law firms will continue to be the largest employers of paralegals, many large corporations are increasing their in-house legal departments to cut costs. For many companies, the high cost of lawyers and their support staff makes it more economical to have an in-house legal department, rather than to retain outside counsel. This will lead to an increase in the demand of legal workers in a variety of settings, such as finance and insurance firms, consulting firms, and healthcare providers.

A Note about Certificate Programs

Paralegal programs are offered in a variety of models. Duke has elected to offer our Paralegal Program as a non-credit Certificate program. Certificate programs allow students to concentrate their studies in the specific content areas relevant to the profession. By focusing their coursework on paralegal skills, students in our program are able to complete their educational requirements in a shorter period of time and at a significantly lower cost.