How to Choose a Paralegal School near Watertown Minnesota
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Watertown MN and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it’s important that you find the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Watertown homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school need to be taken into account as well. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold comparable job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Watertown MN attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney’s. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their daily activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very challenging. However, 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 restricted to clerical or administrative tasks 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, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training 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 academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Watertown MN is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as six months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Minnesota to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Watertown MN area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important factors to consider also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s take a look at a few 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 and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Watertown MN law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are often offered only for accredited programs.
What’s the Program’s Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Watertown MN law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Watertown MN legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Minnesota legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it may be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school located in Minnesota or the state where you wish to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to create relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to first consider those schools that are within the Watertown MN region.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don’t forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help minimize part of the cost, so be sure to check with the school’s financial aid department to find out what is available in Watertown MN. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, some of these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Watertown MN, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you select makes available that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more prevalent and may be an excellent alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to individuals who keep working while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online classes 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 caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the ideal option for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Watertown MN?
If you live near Watertown MN 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.
As of the census of 2010, there were 4,205 people, 1,564 households, and 1,075 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,623.6 inhabitants per square mile (626.9/km2). There were 1,697 housing units at an average density of 655.2 per square mile (253.0/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 95.8% White, 0.3% African American, 0.4% Native American, 0.8% Asian, 0.6% from other races, and 2.1% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.7% of the population.
There were 1,564 households of which 40.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 56.1% were married couples living together, 7.8% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.9% had a male householder with no wife present, and 31.3% were non-families. 25.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.65 and the average family size was 3.22.
The median age in the city was 34.3 years. 29.5% of residents were under the age of 18; 7.3% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 30.8% were from 25 to 44; 22.7% were from 45 to 64; and 9.7% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 49.2% male and 50.8% female.
Select the Right Paralegal Program near Watertown MN
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal training program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Watertown residence. Paralegal training programs are made available in numerous formats and lengths. Various kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you choose to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to review each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Watertown MN.
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