How to Choose the Right Paralegal Degree Program near Washington District of Columbia
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Washington DC and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it’s important that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students begin by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Washington homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program ought to be taken into consideration too. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your selection. But first, let’s have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, only 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 category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Washington DC lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal’s work is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer’s. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their daily tasks can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents 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 authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Washington DC is by obtaining a certificate, which may take as little as 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are available also. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might choose to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in District of Columbia to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. 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 paralegal certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Points to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Washington DC area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical factors to consider as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Washington DC law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often offered only for accredited programs.
What’s the School’s Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Washington DC law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while attending school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Washington DC legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement 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 District of Columbia legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School’s Location? Because laws differ from one state to another, it may be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in District of Columbia or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to create relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to first investigate those schools that are within the Washington DC region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be accessible to help reduce part of the cost, so make sure to contact the school’s financial aid office to see what is offered in Washington DC. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Washington DC, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you select offers that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making-up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more available and can be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to individuals who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the ideal option for you.
Attending a Paralegal School near Washington DC?
If you live near Washington District of Columbia or perhaps are considering attending classes in that area, following is some interesting and useful information regarding the location of your new school campus.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington or D.C., is the capital of the United States. Founded after the American Revolution as the seat of government of the newly independent country, Washington was named after George Washington, first President of the United States and Founding Father. Washington is the principal city of the Washington metropolitan area, which has a population of 6,131,977. As the seat of the United States federal government and several international organizations, Washington is an important world political capital. The city is also one of the most visited cities in the world, with more than 20 million annual tourists.
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 U.S. 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. 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[update], making it the 20th most-populous city in the United States. Commuters from the surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbs raise the city's daytime 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 nation.
Master Legal Studies Washington DC
Choosing the right paralegal certificate program is a vital 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 Master Legal Studies. But as we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Washington home. Paralegal education programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Several types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you elect to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your final decision. And with the right education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Washington DC.
Other District of Columbia Locations That May Be Of Interest
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