How to Find a Paralegal School near Winter Haven Florida
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Winter Haven FL and start your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it’s crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are becoming available, both at school and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students begin by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Winter Haven residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you must consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your choice. But before we do, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Winter Haven FL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal’s work is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer’s. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their everyday tasks might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved 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 action. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to take on 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 academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Winter Haven FL is by earning a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered also. After you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Florida to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help substantiate 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 program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Points to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Winter Haven FL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical aspects to think about also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s go over some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Winter Haven FL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the Program? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the program 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 rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Winter Haven FL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also present a means for students to begin developing contacts within the Winter Haven FL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Florida legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School’s Location? Because laws vary from one state to another, it might be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in Florida or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first investigate those colleges that are within the Winter Haven FL region.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, 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 available to help offset some of the cost, so be sure to contact the school’s financial aid office to find out what is available in Winter Haven FL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Winter Haven FL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you choose makes available that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more available and may be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to those who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Winter Haven FL?
If you live near Winter Haven FL 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.
Winter Haven, Florida
Winter Haven is a city in Polk County, Florida, United States. The population was 33,874 at the 2010 census. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2015 estimates, the city had a population of 37,689, making it the second most populated city in Polk County. It is a principal city of the Lakeland-Winter Haven, Florida Metropolitan Statistical Area.
The Timucua and the Calusa were the earliest known inhabitants of the land that would become Winter Haven. Both of these groups were deeply impacted by war and disease from the Spanish conquest of Florida in the early 1500s. The Timucua were particularly affected by the expedition of Hernando de Soto. By the 19th century, both these groups no longer existed. During these expeditions the Spanish explorers claimed the entire peninsula of Florida for the Spanish monarchy
In the 19th century the Creek and the Seminole were known to live and hunt in this area. During the Seminole Wars the Seminole leader, Chipco, and his followers were known to live in the Winter Haven area. Several small skirmishes during the war were fought in and around Winter Haven.
Enroll in the Best Paralegal School near Winter Haven FL
Selecting the right paralegal training program is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Winter Haven home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you elect to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the ideal training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Winter Haven FL.
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