How to Pick a Paralegal School near Winston Salem North Carolina
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Winston Salem NC and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it’s important that you find the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Winston Salem residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school should be considered also. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill comparable job roles 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 separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Winston Salem NC lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, 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 practice may assist with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney’s. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their everyday activities might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs 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 opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Winston Salem NC is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered as well. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in North Carolina to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Things to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Winston Salem NC area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant issues to consider as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Winston Salem NC law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually offered only for accredited programs.
What’s the Program’s Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Winston Salem NC law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Winston Salem NC legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, specifically 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 hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with North Carolina legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws vary from one state to another, it might be beneficial to choose a paralegal school located in North Carolina or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Winston Salem NC region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be obtainable to help reduce part of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school’s financial aid department to see what is offered in Winston Salem NC. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Winston Salem NC, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you select makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making-up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Classes
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more common and can be an excellent option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to those who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a reputable organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal option for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Winston Salem NC?
If you live near Winston Salem NC 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.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Winston-Salem is a city in and the county seat of Forsyth County, North Carolina, United States. With a 2015 estimated population of 241,218, it is the second largest municipality in the Piedmont Triad region and the 5th-most populous city in North Carolina, and the 89th-most populous city in the United States. Winston-Salem is home to the tallest office building in the region, 100 North Main Street, formerly the Wachovia Building and now known locally as the Wells Fargo Center.
Winston-Salem is called the "Twin City" for its dual heritage and "City of the Arts and Innovation" for its dedication to fine arts and theater and technological research. "Camel City" is a reference to the city's historic involvement in the tobacco industry related to locally based R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company's Camel cigarettes. Many locals refer to the city as "Winston" in informal speech. Another nickname, "the Dash," comes from the (-) in the city's name, although technically it is a hyphen, not a dash; this nickname is only used by the local minor league baseball team, the Winston-Salem Dash.
The origin of the town of Salem dates to January 1753, when Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenberg, on behalf of the Moravian Church, selected a settlement site in the three forks of Muddy Creek. He called this area "die Wachau" (Latin form: Wachovia) named after the ancestral estate of Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf. The land, just short of 99,000 acres (400 km2), was subsequently purchased from John Carteret, 2nd Earl Granville.
Choose the Right Paralegal Degree Program near Winston Salem NC
Selecting the best 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 option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Winston Salem residence. Paralegal academic programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to examine each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Winston Salem NC.
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