How to Pick a Paralegal Program near Smithfield Rhode Island
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Smithfield RI and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding career in legal services. However, it’s crucial that you locate the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic options are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by trying to find schools within driving range of their Smithfield residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be taken into consideration also. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your selection. But first, let’s take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Smithfield RI attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal’s work is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney’s. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their routine tasks can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. However, 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 confined to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Smithfield RI is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many 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 two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered also. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Rhode Island to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your job opportunities, but help substantiate 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Smithfield RI 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 prospective 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 critical factors to research 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 investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a recognized 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 training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Smithfield RI law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited schools.
What’s the School’s Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Smithfield RI law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also provide a means for students to start establishing contacts within the Smithfield RI legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Rhode Island legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School’s Location? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it might be beneficial to select a legal assistant school located in Rhode Island or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to build relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to first investigate those schools that are within the Smithfield RI region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don’t forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help reduce some of the cost, so don’t forget to consult with the school’s financial aid department to see what is offered in Smithfield RI. Naturally if you opt to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Smithfield RI, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you select makes available that option. Last, inquire what the process is for making-up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Degrees
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more available and can be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Smithfield RI?
If you live near Smithfield RI 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.
Smithfield, Rhode Island
Smithfield is located in Providence County, Rhode Island, United States. It includes the historic villages of Esmond, Georgiaville, Mountaindale, Hanton City, Stillwater and Greenville. The population was 21,430 at the 2010 census. Smithfield is the home of Bryant University, a private four year college.
The area comprising modern-day Smithfield was first settled in 1636 by several British colonists, including John Steere as a farming community and named after Smithfield, London. The area was within the boundaries of Providence until 1731 when Smithfield was incorporated as a separate town. Chief Justice Peleg Arnold lived in early Smithfield, and his 1690 home stands today. There was an active Quaker community in early 18th century Smithfield that extended along the Great Road, from what is today Woonsocket, north into south Uxbridge, Massachusetts. This Quaker community, and its members, became influential in the abolition movement, with members such as Effingham Capron and Abby Kelley Foster, and also gave rise to other Quaker settlements including one at Adams, Massachusetts where Susan B. Anthony was born as an early member. Elizabeth Buffum Chace is a well-known person from Smithfield who was influential in both abolition of slavery, and the women's rights movement. In the 19th century several mills were built in the town. In the mid-19th century the towns of North Smithfield, Rhode Island, and Lincoln, Rhode Island, became separate towns. The colonial ghost town of Hanton City is located within the boundaries of present-day Smithfield, but was a completely separate community in the eighteenth century. A Revolutionary war soldier, from the Smithfield side of the Massachusetts border, Captain James Buxton, ended up as a Massachusetts militiaman and Continental Army veteran, who was deeded 300 acres in Worcester County by Governor John Hancock. For this reason Buxton was lost to the history of Rhode Island Revolutionary soldiers.(see South Uxbridge history). Buxton served at Valley Forge among other battles.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 71.9 km² (27.8 mi²). 68.9 km² (26.6 mi²) of it is land and 3.1 km² (1.2 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 4.25% water.
Find the Right Paralegal Program near Smithfield RI
Selecting the best paralegal degree program is an important 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 attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Smithfield residence. Paralegal academic programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Different kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each school and make your final decision. And with the right education you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Smithfield RI.
Other Rhode Island Locations That May Be Of Interest
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