How to Choose a Paralegal College near Sumter South Carolina
Best Wishes regarding your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Sumter SC and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. However, it’s crucial that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by searching for schools within commuting range of their Sumter homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program must be taken into account too. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you need 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 what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn a paralegal certificate or degree.
South Carolina Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Sumter SC attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer’s. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their everyday activities may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for Sumter SC attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a paralegal is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be acquired at many Sumter SC area community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option also. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in South Carolina to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded 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 degree or certificate from an accredited Sumter SC area school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Degrees
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more common in Sumter SC and can be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at Sumter SC area junior and community colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other important aspects to research as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Sumter SC law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the School? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the South Carolina legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since Sumter SC employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other Sumter SC legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also present a means for students to begin developing contacts within the legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Sumter SC legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it might be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school located in South Carolina or the state where you wish to work after graduating. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the neighboring Sumter SC legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially look at those colleges that are within your local area.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential received and the length of training provided. 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 may be accessible to help reduce part of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school’s financial aid department to see what is offered in Sumter SC. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Sumter SC, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you choose provides that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making-up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Find the Right Paralegal School near Sumter SC
Choosing the best paralegal educational program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Sumter residence. Paralegal training programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you elect to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each program and make your final selection. And with the right training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Sumter SC.
More About Sumter South Carolina
Sumter, South Carolina
Sumter /ˈsʌmtər/ is a city in and the county seat of Sumter County, South Carolina, United States. Known as the Sumter Metropolitan Statistical Area, the namesake county adjoins Clarendon and Lee to form the core of Sumter-Lee-Clarendon tri-county area of South Carolina, an area that includes the three counties in the east central Piedmont. The population was 39,643 at the 2000 census, and it rose to 40,524 at the 2010 census.
Incorporated as Sumterville in 1845, the city's name was shortened to Sumter in 1855. It has grown and prospered from its early beginnings as a plantation settlement. The city and county of Sumter bear the name of General Thomas Sumter, the "Fighting Gamecock" of the American Revolutionary War.
During the Civil War, the town was an important supply and railroad repair center for the Confederacy. After the war, Sumter grew and prospered, using its large railroad network to supply cotton, timber, and by the start of the 20th century, tobacco to the region.
During the 20th century, Sumter grew into a major industrial center. Starting with the opening of Shaw Air Force Base (now home to the 9th Air Force, 20th Fighter Wing, and United States Army Central) in 1941, industry grew, especially after World War II. Sumter became increasingly known for textiles, manufacturing, biotech industries, a thriving retail environment and medical center of its region in addition to agricultural products, which makes it a hub for business in the east central portion of South Carolina.
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