How to Find a Paralegal Studies 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 gratifying career 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 succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students start by looking for schools within driving range of their Washington homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be considered also. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let’s take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
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 equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Washington DC lawyers with a wide range of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney’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 responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. On the other hand, 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 limited to clerical or administrative duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Washington DC is by earning a certificate, which can require as little as 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered also. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might want 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 maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some 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 paralegal certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Washington DC area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial aspects to think about as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s go over several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee 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 as well. Numerous Washington DC law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What’s the Program’s Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Washington DC law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Washington DC legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with District of Columbia legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School’s Location? Because laws differ among states, it might be advantageous to select a legal assistant school located in District of Columbia or the state where you wish to work after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the area where you desire to practice. 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 might wish to first consider those schools that are within the Washington DC region.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don’t forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be obtainable to help offset part of the expense, so don’t forget to talk to the school’s financial aid office to find out what is available in Washington DC. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Washington DC, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you select offers that option. Last, find out what the process is for making-up classes missed because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more prevalent and may be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to individuals who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can 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 ensure that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal option for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Washington DC?
If you live near Washington DC or perhaps you 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 of America. 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. Washington has been described as an important political capital, owing to its status as the seat of the United States federal government. Washington is 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 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 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 country.
Choose the Ideal Legal Assistant School near Washington DC
Selecting the ideal paralegal degree program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Washington residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in many formats and lengths. Several kinds of public and private institutions make available 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 profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right training you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Washington DC.
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