Paralegal Studies

With a degree in paralegal studies at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, you will use your innate talents as a problem solver, creative thinker and multi-tasker, channeling your talents to serve in a paralegal studies career.

Earn Your Paralegal Studies Degree Online

Your curiosity. Our expertise.

A paralegal studies degree from Woods Online at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College can propel you to the next level in your career.

We have high expectations for you. Here’s what you can expect from us:

Support: Our professors are more than just teachers. They are advisors, cheerleaders and friends. We offer online academic support so you’re never alone and career services specifically tailored to individual student goals.

Dedication: Our faculty and staff have stood in your shoes before. We know about the homework, class projects and presentations. We’re here to help, advise and encourage you through all of your classes.

Convenience: We understand you’re busy—you’re a student, a parent and an employee. We know that you have many responsibilities to balance, so we work with you to ensure that you graduate with a paralegal studies degree that breaks down the barriers in your career.

More than 90 percent of our grads land a job right when they graduate. You have the drive to aspire higher. The professors, mentors and staff at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College will help you get there.

A program you can trust:

  • Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission
  • Approved by the American Bar Association through February 17, 2017
  • Ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the best online programs in the country
  • Requires 10 credit hours of face-to-face coursework through February 17, 2017

American Association for Paralegal Education Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is an Institutional Member of the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE). This membership has been continuous since 1989.

American Bar Association Approved Paralegal Education Program

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) has voluntarily withdrawn its approval from the American Bar Association (ABA). The withdrawal is expected to be effective February, 2017. Students completing their program of study or degree between March 2010 and February 2017 will be able to represent themselves as having graduated from an ABA-approved paralegal program.

What does a paralegal do? What can't a paralegal do (UPL)?

All states have general statutes which limit the practice of law to licensed attorneys. The way each state defines the Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL), if it is defined at all, differs greatly. UPL laws are open to interpretation by the courts and each jurisdiction differs in its activities and interpretations. Generally, the practice of law has been recognized to include: (1) accepting cases from a client; (2) setting fees; (3) giving legal advice, thereby rendering independent legal judgment on behalf of a client; (4) preparing or signing legal documents; and (5) appearing in a representative capacity before a court or other adjudicatory body. You need to be familiar with the UPL rules and regulations for the state within which you are working.

With those exceptions, paralegals can do anything that a lawyer would do, such as:

  • Investigate - Uncover facts and laws while working with the attorney on how to prepare cases.
  • Research - Gather and analyze laws or decisions that were made on similar cases.
  • Organize - Analyze and organize material for cases; digest and index information obtained prior to trial.
  • Write - Prepare written reports for lawyers that summarize the research and communicate both in and out of the office.
  • Draft - Prepare legal documents such as briefs, pleadings, wills, contracts, and other documents.
  • Interview - Collect information in preparation for lawsuits.

To be successful, paralegals need certain skills, such as:

  • Organization - to maintain complex dockets and files, both manually and on a computerized basis, for availability to attorneys.
  • Management - to direct and coordinate office activities or workers.
  • Technology - to use computers in a variety of ways such to locate and organize legal records and research.
  • Communication - to present ideas and results in a professional manner.
  • Foreign Language - to benefit employers by communicating with diverse clients.


For more information about the department visit the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Paralegal Studies Major - (47 credit hours)

The Paralegal Studies bachelor's degree program provides an undergraduate major, within the context of the liberal arts education, with a primary focus on the study of law in its relation to politics, society, and history. As a part of liberal arts education, the Paralegal Studies program goes beyond what constitutes law and explores the mutual impacts of law and society. Moreover, the courses in the major encourage students to examine political influences, historical patterns, and economic relations and the moral, philosophical and ethical foundations and implications of law. This major synthesizes the study of the substance and process of law.

Read the following article to learn more about how the Woods Online paralegal program fills need within the job market.

Paralegal Courses

14 Credit Hours; all courses listed

Course introduces students to the legal assistant career including what the profession is about, what the legal assistant does and how the legal assistant can create a future in an ethical context.

The fundamentals of working and legal vocabulary, grammar, punctuation and diction, proper citation form, writing logically and effectively for the legal setting and reading for comprehension. Writing-intensive course culminating with research presented in a professional memorandum format. Course fee. Prerequisite: PL 231.

Course presents the five-stage interviewing model, an extensive multicultural focus, an emphasis on developmental theory and the concept of negotiation or alternative dispute resolution. Students master an important set of skills basic to all interviewing situations and engage in role-playing situations designed to develop communication skills.

Course presents tort and contract law basics and the liability of persons who commit civil wrongs and/or breach contracts. Course fee. Prerequisite PL 231.

Students learn skills which will prepare them to assist attorneys in all activities relating to civil trial practice from pretrial to trial, appeal and enforcement/compliance procedures. Students draft documents, develop discovery plans, conduct discovery, investigate and develop trial notebooks.

Electives

Students may select a track or may choose to take any courses for a total of 12 credit hours of paralegal electives.

Litigation Track

Students may choose a track or area of focus in the paralegal program. The litigation track requires the two courses listed below plus six additional credit hours of paralegal electives, for a total of 12 credit hours.

This course will provide students with a basic understanding of the alternative dispute resolution process, will define the range of ADR programs, explain the cultural context for dispute resolution, present negotiation skills, and prepare students for alternative areas of employment in this evolving area. Prerequisite: consent of instructor.

Administrative law controls the way in which administrative agencies operate and the regulations they issue. Administrative law requires an understanding of all areas of law. Much of our daily activity involves complying with administrative rules or seeking government benefits from administrative agencies. Course provides students with the knowledge and skills needed for effective interaction with administrative organizations.

Personal Law Track

Students may choose a track or area of focus in the paralegal program. The personal law track requires the four courses listed below; for a total of 12 credit hours.

The legal and personal implications of divorce, separation, premarital agreements, child custody, rights of women and counseling are presented. Conducting client interviews, preparing pleas, researching case law and considering tax consequences are experiential components. Course fee. Prerequisite: PL 231.

Course provides a basic introduction to the concepts of intellectual property law by providing an overview of the three primary regimes of the federal intellectual property system: trademark, copyright and patent law, along with a look at related state law, primarily trade secrets. Also looks at IP issues for the artist, performer, manager of contractual relationships; acquisition, copyright and disposition of literary and audio-visual properties; production and distribution agreements; advertising law and rights affecting TV, motion picture, radio and stage business. Prerequisites: PL 200 and 231.

Course provides a thorough treatment of real estate theory, from the social impact and economic importance of real estate to procedures and applications in the real estate office. Property management, title searching, document drafting and zoning considerations provide the basis for the hands-on portion of the course.

Course presents the fundamentals of wills and trusts, why wills are needed, a review of state and federal income and fiduciary taxes and the method of assisting an attorney in the probate/estate process. Intense document drafting is a major part of this course.

Other Electives Available

The follow paralegal electives are available. You may add any of these electives to the required courses to strengthen your paralegal knowledge. If pursuing the litigation track, students need 6 credit hours of electives.

Provides an overview of environmental law that is relevant to the everyday lives of all citizens. As an overview, offers the curious student the resources needed to explore environmental subject areas or issues more fully. Revolves around the primary federal environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and National Environmental Policy Act. Interesting cases, such as does a cetacean have standing to sue, will be incorporated as learning tools.

Discusses salient issues of the time such as affirmative action, juvenile law, sexual harassment, women and the law, employment discrimination, right to privacy and labor law. Instructor’s consent. As needed. May have course fee.

Course introduces the principles and theories of criminal law, presents the fundamental role that criminal law plays in our democratic process and delineates the limitations placed on the government’s power to use criminal law.

Course introduces the various forms of business organizations; includes practical techniques used to form and to continue operations of corporations, partnerships and limited liability companies. Explores employment relations, business transactions, financing and property consideration.

This non-science survey course provides the student with a general overview of the wide scope of the area of investigative techniques associated with forensic science. Fundamental topics such as fingerprinting, crime scene investigation, observation of scenes, and report writing will be presented. Interwoven in this study is the law and the importance of the system within a system. Prerequisite: PL 331 or consent of instructor.

Provides a historical overview of how law and the legal system in the United States have defined women’s status from the Revolutionary War period to the present in such areas as family law, criminal law, property and contract rights, earnings, and rights of citizenship. Examines selected contemporary issues, including statutory, regulatory, and constitutional remedies to gender bias or inequities; family violence, divorce, custody, and economic/employment issues. The effectiveness of the courts, legislatures, and other forums in resolving these issues is also examined.

Course presents a comprehensive view of management principles as they apply to the law office. Areas of discussion include strategic planning, environmental design, interpersonal skills, time management, law office automation, marketing, and personnel relations.

Course topics rotate according to current needs in the profession. Possible topics are elder law, landlord-tenant law, collections, medico-legal aspects of law, employee benefits/pension law, worker’s compensation and administrative law. May have course fee. May be repeated with different topics. Prerequisite: Consent of instructor.

Work experience with firm or agency directly related to the student’s major area of study. The learning experience is structured within the College approved guidelines for the internship program. Through close supervision by the director of interns, faculty advisor and the worksite supervisor, the student works toward achieving goals outlined in the individual learning contract. Normally reserved for third and fourth year students. May be repeated with different topics. As needed. Prerequisite: Consent of program coordinator.

Individually supervised advanced study on topic of scholarly and critical interest in a selected area of paralegal studies. May have a course fee. May be repeated with different topics. Prerequisite: Consent of program coordinator.

Students volunteer to work in legal settings, taking PL 231 and with permission of the program coordinator. Student contracts work schedules with the site supervisor, who evaluates the performance for the student’s files. Students may participate at five sites during their college career. May be repeated five semesters with different topics. Prerequisite: PL 231 and consent of program coordinator.

Paralegal Studies Associate Degree - (41 credit hours)

The associate degree in paralegal studies requires the completion of 39 credit hours of subject-specific coursework, in addition to the general studies requirements.

Required Courses

11 credit hours required; all courses listed

Course introduces students to the legal assistant career including what the profession is about, what the legal assistant does and how the legal assistant can create a future in an ethical context.

The fundamentals of working and legal vocabulary, grammar, punctuation and diction, proper citation form, writing logically and effectively for the legal setting and reading for comprehension. Writing-intensive course culminating with research presented in a professional memorandum format. Course fee. Prerequisite: PL 231.

Course presents tort and contract law basics and the liability of persons who commit civil wrongs and/or breach contracts. Course fee. Prerequisite PL 231.

Students learn skills which will prepare them to assist attorneys in all activities relating to civil trial practice from pretrial to trial, appeal and enforcement/compliance procedures. Students draft documents, develop discovery plans, conduct discovery, investigate and develop trial notebooks.

Paralegal Electives

9 credit hours required. These electives can be taken from a track or from a combination of paralegal courses not otherwise required for the associate degree. See the tracks and additional class option in the Paralegal Studies Major for options.

Paralegal Certificate (32 credit hours)

Paralegal studies is also available as a paralegal certificate program for individuals who have already earned a baccalaureate degree.  Coursework for the paralegal certificate is just paralegal studies requirements plus an English composition course (if an English course has not been completed in the undergraduate degree).

Required Courses

8 credit hours required; all classes listed.

Course introduces students to the legal assistant career including what the profession is about, what the legal assistant does and how the legal assistant can create a future in an ethical context.

Course presents tort and contract law basics and the liability of persons who commit civil wrongs and/or breach contracts. Course fee. Prerequisite PL 231.

Students learn skills which will prepare them to assist attorneys in all activities relating to civil trial practice from pretrial to trial, appeal and enforcement/compliance procedures. Students draft documents, develop discovery plans, conduct discovery, investigate and develop trial notebooks.

Paralegal Elective

3 credit hours of paralegal electives are required. This elective can be taken from any paralegal course not otherwise required.

Paralegals work just about everywhere, because everyone deals with the law. Careers in paralegal studies can be found at law offices, legal departments in financial institutions, real estate offices, government and corporations. Some paralegal studies graduates work in general practice law firms and others choose family law or legal aid. Others are drawn to the excitement of the court room and choose to enter litigation. Additional focuses include, personal injury, medical malpractice, and criminal law. Your job opportunities as a paralegal are vast and expanding.

The paralegal studies profession has grown rapidly in recent years.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this trend will continue beyond 2018.  Paralegal jobs are in diverse areas including, but not limited to:

  • Law offices
  • Banks
  • IRS
  • Law enforcement agencies
  • Private investigating firms
  • Insurance companies
  • Libraries
  • Arbitration
  • Retail stores
  • Courts
  • State and federal government
  • Colleges
  • Legal aid societies
  • Corporations
  • TV, radio, and newspaper media
  • Title companies
  • Administrative agencies
  • Freelance paralegal business

Read the following article to learn more about how the Woods Online paralegal program fills need within the job market.

For more information about the department visit the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Will a paralegal studies degree prepare me for law school?

There is no magic major which will insure your acceptance into law school. Law school classes are composed of students from all traditional college majors. Each law school has its own criteria for admission. The commonalties for all law schools are grade point average, LSAT scores, letters of recommendation, work experience, and state of residency. Other criteria are also considered, such as extracurricular activities and personal essay.

Admission committees are usually impressed with applicants who can demonstrate that their thinking and reasoning skills have been challenged in a diverse curriculum emphasizing writing, speaking, synthesizing, analyzing, advocating and negotiating. A broad liberal arts curriculum provides these skills.

Paralegal studies majors reinforce these skills in the legal specialty courses. The major is small enough to allow students to pursue other courses of interest which also emphasizes thinking, writing, and speaking. The paralegal studies major gives students a decided edge in the first year of law school because of the students' knowledge of the basics of law, the terminology, the initial research and computer skills, as well as some work experience in a legal setting.

What are some tips for students considering paralegal studies?

First, do your best, academically. Attend class, be alert and engaged with class materials, be on time with assignments, and show initiative. The Mentor Program and Practicum can provide you with experiences in actual work settings and many courses in the major require projects that get students into the community. These real life situations allow you to make important community contacts. Participate and show leadership in various extra-curricular activities.

Second, pick an area of interest to you for a second major or a minor. Because paralegal studies majors learn skills that are useful in a variety of employment settings, many major or minor areas will create good combinations. For example:

  • Business (any major): a career in accounting, personnel, human resources, management, or marketing.
  • Computer Information Systems: support in any employment scene that is continually being transformed by computers and their impact.
  • Art and Graphic Design: a career in any area that is based in visual matters.
  • Equine Studies: a career in the legal/management aspect of stables, and buying and selling of horses.
  • History/Political Science: work in government, as a lobbyist, or use as a basis for law school.
  • Human Services: a career in shelters, social service agencies, or senior centers.
  • Professional Writing: careers as writers or editors in the publishing industry.
  • Psychology: a career in law enforcement, investigation, shelter settings, or the juvenile justice system.
  • Sociology: an understanding of group behavior, the structure of society, organizational systems and for public-interest advocacy work.
  • Spanish or French: careers in firms that deal with Hispanic or French communities, have overseas offices, or perform in consulate work.

Kathryn Myers

Associate Professor of Paralegal Studies

  • (812) 535-5235

Faculty Members

Joseph Bosstick
Adjunct Faculty

A. Kassi Dodd Rigney
Adjunct Faculty

  • Phone: (317) 502-2856
  • Text: (317) 327-5308
  • Fax: (317) 327-5857
  • Email: kdodd@smwc.edu 

Tamara S. Inman
Adjunct Faculty

  • Phone: (812) 208-4300
  • Email: tinman@smwc.edu
  • Virtual office hours: Thursday, 8 p.m. - 9 p.m. EST

The Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Chapter of Lambda Epsilon Chi (LEX)

 A National Honor Society in Paralegal Studies

Lambda Epsilon Chi (LEX) is the national honor society founded by the American Association for Paralegal Education. There are over 170 chapters throughout the United States and thousands of inductees who have been honored for their outstanding academic achievements.

SMWC selects those students who meet high academic criteria and cite them for their accomplishments by inducting them into Lambda Epsilon Chi. These students are recognized through a formal ceremony and the awarding of a Certificate of Induction and a special pin. They also are entered into the permanent records of LEX.

The student to be inducted must complete at least two-thirds of their required courses and demonstrate “superior academic performance” which is evidenced by an overall grade point average of at least 3.25, plus a grade point average in their paralegal classes of at least 3.50, to make membership in LEX a true and meaningful academic honor within the institution and a recognizable indication of superior academic achievement to members of the legal profession in the geographical area served by the institution.

LEX Scholarships

Each year the American Association for Paralegal Education awards up to five (5) national scholarships, each in the amount of $500.00. Students from Lambda Epsilon Chi (LEX) honor society chartered academic institutions are eligible to apply for scholarships.

The deadline for submitting applications is February 15th.

The $500 scholarships are specifically awarded for the pursuit of the recipients’ paralegal education. The award checks will be made payable jointly to the scholarship recipient and the recipient’s school.

Past winners from SMWC:

Mary Kay Jungers
William Welch