How to Choose a Paralegal Degree Program near Washington District of Columbia
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Washington DC and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. However, it’s crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students start by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Washington homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program ought to be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your decision. But first, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available to earn a paralegal certificate or degree.
District of Columbia Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill the same job roles and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Washington DC attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer’s. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their everyday tasks might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for Washington DC lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a legal assistant is by earning a certificate, which may take just 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be obtained at numerous Washington DC area community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are available also. Once you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in District of Columbia to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded certifying organizations in the profession are:
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- American Alliance of Paralegals
- National Association of Legal Assistants
- National Association for Legal Professionals
By graduating with a certificate or degree from an accredited Washington DC area school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Classes
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more available in Washington DC and may be an excellent option for students searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to those who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the right option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at Washington DC area junior and community colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical aspects to consider as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering 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 respected accrediting agency 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 targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Washington DC law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What’s the School’s Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the District of Columbia paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since Washington DC employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other Washington DC legal establishment while still in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Washington DC legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ from one state to another, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school located in District of Columbia or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be important to create relationships in the area Washington DC legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first investigate those colleges that are within your local region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don’t forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be accessible to help offset some of the cost, so don’t forget to talk to the school’s financial aid department to find out what is available in Washington DC. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Washington DC, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you select makes available that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making up missed classes because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Ideal Legal Assistant Training near Washington DC
Choosing the best paralegal degree program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Washington residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Different kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to review each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Washington DC.
More About Washington District of Columbia
The signing of the Residence Act on July 16, 1790, approved the creation of a capital district located along the Potomac River on the country's East Coast. The U.S. Constitution provided for a federal district under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Congress and the District is therefore not a part of any state. The states of Maryland and Virginia each donated land to form the federal district, which included the pre-existing settlements of Georgetown and Alexandria. Named in honor of President George Washington, the City of Washington was founded in 1791 to serve as the new national capital. In 1846, Congress returned the land originally ceded by Virginia; in 1871, it created a single municipal government for the remaining portion of the District.
Washington had an estimated population of 693,972 as of July 2017. Commuters from the surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbs raise the city's population to more than one million during the workweek. The Washington metropolitan area, of which the District is the principal city, has a population of over 6 million, the sixth-largest metropolitan statistical area in the country.
All three branches of the federal government of the United States are centered in the District - Congress, President, and Supreme Court. Washington is home to many national monuments and museums, which are primarily situated on or around the National Mall. The city hosts 176 foreign embassies as well as the headquarters of many international organizations, trade unions, non-profit organizations, lobbying groups, and professional associations.
A locally elected mayor and a 13‑member council have governed the District since 1973. However, Congress maintains supreme authority over the city and may overturn local laws. D.C. residents elect a non-voting, at-large congressional delegate to the House of Representatives, but the District has no representation in the Senate. The District receives three electoral votes in presidential elections as permitted by the Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1961.
Related Cities in District of Columbia
Business Results 1 - 10 of 145