How to Pick a Paralegal Training Program near Wilmington North Carolina
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Wilmington NC and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it’s important that you find the best school so that you will get the comprehensive 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 increasingly more educational alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by searching for schools within commuting range of their Wilmington homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be considered also. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your decision. But first, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn a paralegal certificate or degree.
North Carolina Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Wilmington NC lawyers with a wide range of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal’s work is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney’s. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but some of their daily tasks might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for Wilmington NC lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, 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 fastest means to start your career as a legal assistant is by earning a certificate, which may involve just six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be earned at many Wilmington NC area community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are available also. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in North Carolina to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 certificate or degree from an accredited Wilmington NC area school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more prevalent in Wilmington NC and can be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to those who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at Wilmington NC area community and junior colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other crucial issues to think about also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s go over some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to 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 targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Wilmington NC law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the School? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the North Carolina paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since Wilmington NC employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other Wilmington NC legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Wilmington NC legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it may be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in North Carolina or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the neighboring Wilmington NC legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to first investigate those schools that are within your local area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don’t forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help reduce part of the cost, so be sure to contact the school’s financial aid department to find out what is available in Wilmington NC. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Wilmington NC, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you choose provides that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Find the Right Legal Assistant Certificate Program near Wilmington NC
Enrolling in the right paralegal degree program is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Wilmington residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Various kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to assess each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Wilmington NC.
More About Wilmington North Carolina
Wilmington, North Carolina
Wilmington is a port city and the county seat of New Hanover County in coastal southeastern North Carolina, United States. The population is 112,067; according to the 2010 Census it is the eighth most populous city in the state. Wilmington is the principal city of the Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area, a metropolitan area that includes New Hanover and Pender counties in southeastern North Carolina, which has a population of 263,429 as of the 2012 Census Estimate.
Wilmington was settled by European Americans along the Cape Fear River. Its historic downtown has a one-mile-long Riverwalk, developed as a tourist attraction in the late 20th century. In 2014 Wilmington's riverfront was ranked as the "Best American Riverfront" by readers of USA Today. It is minutes away from nearby beaches. The National Trust for Historic Preservation selected Wilmington as one of its 2008 Dozen Distinctive Destinations. City residents live between the river and the ocean, with four nearby beach communities: Fort Fisher, Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, and Kure Beach, all within half-hour drives from downtown Wilmington.
In 2003 the city was designated by the US Congress as a "Coast Guard City". It is the home port for the USCGC Diligence, a United States Coast Guard medium endurance cutter. The World War II battleship USS North Carolina is held as a war memorial; moored across from the downtown port area, the ship is open to public tours. Other attractions include the Cape Fear Museum, and the Wilmington Hammerheads United Soccer Leagues soccer team. The University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) provides a wide variety of programs for undergraduates, graduate students, and adult learners, in addition to cultural and sports events open to the community.
Wilmington is the home of EUE Screen Gems Studios, the largest domestic television and movie production facility outside California. "Dream Stage 10," the facility's newest sound stage, is the third-largest in the US. It houses the largest special-effects water tank in North America. After the studio's opening in 1984, Wilmington became a major center of American film and television production. Numerous movies in a range of genres and several television series have been produced here, including Iron Man 3, Fox's Sleepy Hollow, One Tree Hill, Dawson's Creek and NBC's Revolution.
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