How to Select a Paralegal Certificate Program near Westerly Rhode Island
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Westerly RI and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it’s crucial that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic options are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by searching for schools within driving range of their Westerly residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into account also. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let’s have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Westerly RI attorneys with a wide range of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer’s. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their regular activities may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready 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 involved and very demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Westerly RI is by earning a certificate, which can take as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered also. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Rhode Island to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Things to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Westerly RI area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial aspects to research also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick should be accredited by a reputable 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 education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Westerly RI law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the School? 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 profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Westerly RI law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also present a means for students to start developing contacts within the Westerly RI legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating 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 secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Rhode Island legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it might be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Rhode Island or the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you desire 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 initially look at those schools that are within the Westerly RI region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don’t forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help offset part of the cost, so make sure to contact the school’s financial aid office to see what is offered in Westerly RI. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Westerly RI, 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 enroll in offers that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making up missed classes because of work, illness or family obligations.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Training
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more prevalent and may be an excellent alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can often be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right choice for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Westerly RI?
If you live near Westerly 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.
Westerly, Rhode Island
Westerly is a town on the southwestern shoreline of Washington County, Rhode Island, first settled by English colonists in 1661 and incorporated as a municipality in 1669. It is a beachfront community on the south shore of the state with a population of 22,787 as of the 2010 census.
The Pawcatuck River flows on the western border of Westerly and was once renowned for its own species of Westerly salmon, three of which are on the town's official seal. The river flows from some 15 miles (24 km) inland, emptying into Little Narragansett Bay. It also serves as the boundary between Westerly and Pawcatuck, Connecticut. Three large salt ponds lie along the coast of Westerly which serve as shallow, reef-like pools whose outer walls form the long, white beaches for which the town became renowned. From west to east, these ponds are called Maschaug Pond, Winnapaug Pond, and Quonochontaug Pond.
A type of granite known as Westerly granite has long been quarried here. Westerly granite is ideal for statuary and has been used in numerous government buildings of several states along the eastern seaboard. The Westerly area was known for its granite and stone-cutting industry.
Enroll in the Ideal Legal Assistant Certificate Program near Westerly RI
Enrolling in the right paralegal educational program is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Westerly residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you choose to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to review each school and make your final selection. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Westerly RI.
Other Rhode Island Locations That May Be Of Interest
Business Results 1 - 10 of 10