How to Pick a Paralegal Certificate Program near Williamsport Maryland
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Williamsport MD and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it’s crucial that you find the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Williamsport residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program must be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your decision. But first, let’s have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part 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 belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Williamsport MD attorneys with a wide range of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer’s. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their regular tasks can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Williamsport MD is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered as well. Once you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Maryland to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help guarantee 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 options are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Williamsport MD area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important issues to research also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Williamsport MD law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited schools.
What’s the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Williamsport MD law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Williamsport MD legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Maryland legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School’s Location? Since laws vary from state to state, it may be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school located in Maryland or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire 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 may need to initially look at those schools that are within the Williamsport MD region.
What is the Complete 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 cost for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be accessible to help offset some of the expense, so don’t forget to consult with the school’s financial aid office to find out what is available in Williamsport MD. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Williamsport MD, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you select provides that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making up classes missed because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more popular and can be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to individuals who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right option for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Williamsport MD?
If you live near Williamsport MD 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.
The climate in this area is characterized by hot, humid summers and generally mild to cool winters. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Williamsport has a humid subtropical climate, abbreviated "Cfa" on climate maps.
As of the census of 2010, there were 2,137 people, 960 households, and 543 families residing in the town. The population density was 2,054.8 inhabitants per square mile (793.4/km2). There were 1,080 housing units at an average density of 1,038.5 per square mile (401.0/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 95.6% White, 2.5% African American, 0.1% Native American, 0.3% Asian, 0.3% from other races, and 1.1% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.1% of the population.
There were 960 households of which 25.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.7% were married couples living together, 12.9% had a female householder with no husband present, 7.0% had a male householder with no wife present, and 43.4% were non-families. 38.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 19.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.12 and the average family size was 2.73.
Choose the Ideal Paralegal Certificate Program near Williamsport MD
Selecting the ideal paralegal degree program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Williamsport residence. Paralegal academic programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Different kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you elect to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Williamsport MD.
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