How to Find a Paralegal Certificate Program near Washington Virginia
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Washington VA and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it’s essential that you find the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Washington homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be considered also. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your selection. But before we do, let’s have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold 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 different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Washington VA lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney’s. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day tasks can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more suited 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 are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps 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 launch your career as a legal assistant in Washington VA is by obtaining a certificate, which can require just 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are available also. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Virginia to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Points to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Washington VA area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical aspects to think about also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Washington VA law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What’s the Program’s Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Washington VA law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Washington VA legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Virginia legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it may be advantageous to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Virginia or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Washington VA region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don’t forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help minimize part of the expense, so be sure to contact the school’s financial aid department to find out what is available in Washington VA. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Washington VA, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you choose provides that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making-up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more common and may be a good option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to individuals who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.
Will You Attend Paralegal School near Washington VA?
If you live near Washington VA 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.
Washington is a town in and the county seat of Rappahannock County, Virginia, United States. The site of this town was surveyed by George Washington himself in July 1749. It was the first of what would be many American places to be named after the future first president. Its population was just 135 people at the 2010 census, down from 183 in the 2000 census. It is nicknamed Little Washington to avoid confusion because of its proximity to Washington, D.C., which lies only 70 miles (110 km) to the north east.
The Town of Washington was formerly the location of a trading post utilized by frontier families and members of the resident Manahoac tribe. All of the territory in and around the current town was under the ownership of Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron. In 1748, Lord Fairfax met a 16-year-old George Washington, a distant relative of his. Being impressed by his character, Fairfax employed Washington to survey his lands west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On July 24, 1749, the town layout as it appears today was surveyed and platted by Washington with the assistance of his chainmen John Lonem and Edward Corder as part of his service to Fairfax. The village was officially established as a Town by the Virginia General Assembly on December 14, 1795 when it gained the requisite population of 200. Records from an 1835 gazetteer state that the town contained one academy, fifty-five dwellings, four mercantile stores, two taverns, one house of worship, twenty-seven trade shops, and two large flour mills.
During the Civil War, a home on the town's Main Street served as a Confederate Hospital. In the late 19th century when rail became the main method of trade, the main east-west railway route of the time was constructed north of town through the accessible Thoroughfare Gap. Washington was relatively unaffected by the Industrial Age and thus the current town is quite similar to the one of 150 years ago. By the start of the 20th century the population reached three hundred, supporting businesses such as three garages and a barber shop. However, since then, the population had declined to less than 200.
Enroll in the Right Legal Assistant Training near Washington VA
Enrolling in the right paralegal degree program is a vital 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 privacy and comfort of your Washington residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Several kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you decide to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Washington VA.
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