Along with law enforcement and the military, the legal world may be the workplace with the most exposure to pop culture. Books, movies, and TV shows about lawyers and the legal profession abound and continue to sell millions of copies worldwide. One need only think of the author John Grisham, whose books nearly always center on one or several hard-working lawyers, or TV shows like “The Lincoln Lawyer” or “Better Call Saul” to get an idea of the hold that this profession has on the popular imagination.
However, much of what we hear about the legal profession centers only on lawyers, judges, and prosecutors, who make up the most visible aspect of this fascinating profession. In reality, there are dozens of other professions that are just as important to the legal process, whether they be paralegals, councilors, or advisors who are knowledgeable about specific aspects of the law.
Additionally, many companies, agencies, and organizations employ legal professionals who may have yet to attend law school but have an excellent working knowledge of the legal processes relevant to that profession. These individuals may advise an organization on specific aspects of jurisprudence or be tasked with communicating with legal professionals outside of it.
One example is the realm of social work, which does not directly work in the legal world but is oftentimes affected by changes in laws, as well as being tasked with jobs that are highly prescribed by rules and regulations set by local, state, or federal law. Health providers are similarly bound to follow specific guidelines and may employ one or several people to ensure their ongoing compliance.
Individuals who work in and with the law without attending law school often hold degrees or certificates in legal studies. Legal studies not only refers to a field of knowledge and study related to the law but may also include the study of its historical and cultural context. For individuals interested in working with the law without necessarily wanting to become a prosecutor, judge, or attorney themselves, a certificate may be an excellent path to gaining foundational knowledge in the field.
The following guide has been conceived for people who have already attained a bachelor’s degree and are now seeking to deepen, expand, or build their knowledge base in the law through online learning. While some individuals may seek a graduate certificate to explore the possibility of a career in law, others may be looking to augment their ongoing career through the skills and expertise imparted through such a program. The following guide includes information on admissions requirements and curricula of graduate certificate programs, as well as a selection of accredited programs that can be completed through online education.
While admissions requirements generally vary from program to program, nearly every graduate certificate program will require completing a bachelor’s degree before applying. While some programs may allow students to enter without a degree, this is exceedingly rare. Requirements on minimum GPA, residency, and nature of the relevant bachelor’s degree will oftentimes differ from one program to the next.
As with admission requirements, prospective students should expect some variability in the curricula of the various online graduate certification programs in legal studies that they will encounter while searching for a fitting institution from which to seek certification. Some universities and institutions offer as many as a dozen different certificate courses with different emphases, while others offer only a single certificate aimed at a general knowledge base. However, listed below are some courses prospective students should expect to encounter during their attendance.
Listed below is a selection of graduate certificate programs that can be completed online:
Seton Hall is a prestigious university in New Jersey that offers five different graduate certificates in legal studies, two of them focussed on the law as it relates to the healthcare industry. Students may choose between programs such as health and hospital law, pharmaceutical law, financial services compliance, privacy law and cyber security, and law and the creative industries.
Boston’s Northeastern University’s School of Law offers several graduate certificate programs that can be completed through distance education. Certificates can be earned by completing 12 total credits, and students may choose to take more than one course if they have earned a 3.5 or higher GPA during their first term. Northeastern offers certificates in business law, human resources law, health law, and intellectual property law.
The University of Pittsburgh is based in the Pennsylvania city of the same name and offers four different graduate certificate programs that can be completed through its distance learning program. The program consists of 15 credits, which graduating students may apply to their master’s of legal studies, should they choose to attend that graduate program at the University of Pittsburgh. Prospective students can choose between a graduate certificate in either international business law, human resources law, healthcare compliance or corporate compliance.
George Washington University is located in Washington, D.C., and has been expanding its robust online learning program throughout the last couple of years. Through its law school, George Washington offers two separate graduate certificate programs: paralegal studies and healthcare corporate compliance. George Washington’s graduate certificate programs consist of 12 credit hours total.
Drexel University is another well-known university in the northeastern United States that offers eight online graduate certificate programs in legal studies. Students can choose from programs such as criminal law, healthcare and human resources compliance, or financial regulatory compliance. Students may also earn credits through the program that they can later apply to a master’s in legal studies at Drexel’s School of Law.
Wake Forest’s main campus is in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and offers several graduate certificate programs through its law school. These certificates can be earned in as quickly as two semesters and offer the choice of the following concentrations: human resources, health law and policy, business law and compliance, and workplace legal fundamentals.
While the credentials awarded by the online certificate programs listed above will be accepted anywhere in the U.S., not all schools are necessarily able to award certificates to students living anywhere. While online programs offer a significant amount of flexibility regarding where its attendants live, some states restrict who they may be able to enroll.
Before enrolling in a program, it is paramount that prospective students ensure that they qualify for that particular program and university to ensure that they do not lose time and money on application fees for certificate programs for which they may not qualify.
Accreditation is a vital tool to differentiate between universities regularly vetted for the quality of their educational content. Regional accreditation bodies are the primary means by which this process takes place in the United States and are supervised by the Department of Education in administrating this vital work.
While some universities may be in the process of attaining or regaining their accreditation, prospective participants in online certification programs are highly advised to choose a university that is accredited and in good standing with its accreditation body. While they are thankfully not in the majority, some for-profit institutions have been known to exploit students’ motivation to attain a higher qualification without being transparent about the fact that they are not fully accredited. When choosing an institution to attain a certificate, students should look out for an accreditation from one of the six accrediting bodies:
Johannes Stitz is a freelance writer and researcher based in the Southwest. He’s written about various topics in engineering careers. Before turning to freelance writing, he spent nearly a decade in the arts as a booker and event manager.