How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies Program
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it’s important that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students start by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their residences. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school should be considered also. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help attorneys with a wide range of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal’s work is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer’s. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their regular tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a paralegal is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve just 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and can be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option as well. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations in the field are:
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- American Alliance of Paralegals
- National Association of Legal Assistants
- National Association for Legal Professionals
By graduating with a paralegal degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more prevalent and may be an excellent option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can often be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important factors to research also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.
What’s the School’s Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few local law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the local legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with potential legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ from state to state, it may be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be important to create relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those colleges that are within your immediate area.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don’t forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help reduce part of the cost, so make sure to consult with the school’s financial aid department to find out what is offered. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near your home, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you select offers that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Paralegal Bachelors Degree Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies training school is an important first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. You originally came to this website because you had an interest in getting more information about Paralegal Bachelors Degree. But as we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Selma home. Paralegal education programs are provided in many lengths and formats. Various types of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your final selection. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal.