How to Pick a Paralegal Certificate Program near West Columbia South Carolina
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near West Columbia SC and start your journey that will result in a rewarding career in legal services. However, it’s important that you locate the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by searching for schools within commuting range of their West Columbia residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be considered also. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part 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 belong to a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist West Columbia SC lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney’s. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their everyday tasks might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because 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 alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in West Columbia SC is by earning a certificate, which can take just 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are available also. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in South Carolina to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career 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 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 first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the West Columbia SC area, as well as 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 most potential students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical issues to consider also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s go over a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of West Columbia SC law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited schools.
What’s the Program’s Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some West Columbia SC law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the West Columbia SC legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with South Carolina legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School’s Location? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it may be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school located in South Carolina or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to first look at those schools that are within the West Columbia SC area.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help offset some of the expense, so don’t forget to talk to the school’s financial aid office to see what is available in West Columbia SC. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near West Columbia SC, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you choose offers that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more available and may be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to individuals who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near West Columbia SC?
If you live near West Columbia SC 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.
West Columbia, South Carolina
West Columbia is a city and commuter town in the suburban eastern sections of Lexington County, South Carolina, United States. According to the 2010 census, the population was 14,988. It is a part of the greater Columbia, SC metropolitan statistical area.
West Columbia lies west of Columbia, South Carolina, directly across the Congaree River. It is near Columbia's city center or downtown district as well as the South Carolina State House and the Congaree Vista, known locally as "the Vista."
West Columbia was incorporated in 1894 as Brookland, but the United States Postal Service called the town "New Brookland" since there was another town called Brookland. In 1936, the name was changed to West Columbia to emphasize its proximity to Columbia, South Carolina. Numerous businesses, churches and a high school retain the Brookland and New Brookland names.
Enroll in the Ideal Paralegal Degree Program near West Columbia SC
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal degree program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your West Columbia home. Paralegal education programs are provided in many formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you elect to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in West Columbia SC.
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