How to Find a Paralegal Certificate Program near Washington District of Columbia
Best Wishes regarding your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Washington DC and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it’s crucial that you find the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students begin by trying to find paralegal schools within commuting distance of their Washington homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be considered too. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal certificate schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
What is a Paralegal and What Do They Do?
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold the same job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help lawyers in Washington DC with a wide variety of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal’s work is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer’s. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day tasks can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a Washington DC paralegal can be complicated and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career in Washington DC as a paralegal is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option also. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in District of Columbia to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help guarantee your success as a paralegal in Washington DC.
Online Paralegal Programs
Online paralegal schools have become more common and may be a good option for those in Washington DC looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to individuals who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online programs can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can start the process of assessing Washington DC area schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical factors to consider also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a recognized organization 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 online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Washington DC law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the Washington DC paralegal schools you are considering. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also present an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Washington DC legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with District of Columbia legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it might be advantageous to select a paralegal school domiciled in the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to create relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to first look at those colleges that are within your Washington DC local area.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don’t forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be accessible to help offset some of the expense, so don’t forget to consult with the school’s financial aid department to find out what is offered in Washington DC. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Washington DC, 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 provides that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making up classes missed because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Considering Paralegal School in Washington DC?
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington or D.C., is the capital of the United States of America. Founded after the American Revolution as the seat of government of the newly independent country, Washington was named after George Washington, first President of the United States and Founding Father. Washington is the principal city of the Washington Metropolitan Area, which has a population of 6,131,977. Washington is described as the political Capital of the World, owing to its status as the seat of the United States Federal Government and numerous international institutions, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Washington is one of the most visited cities in the world, with more than 20 million annual tourists.
The signing of the Residence Act on July 16, 1790, approved the creation of a capital district located along the Potomac River on the country's East Coast. The U.S. Constitution provided for a federal district under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Congress and the District is therefore not a part of any state. The states of Maryland and Virginia each donated land to form the federal district, which included the pre-existing settlements of Georgetown and Alexandria. Named in honor of President George Washington, the City of Washington was founded in 1791 to serve as the new national capital. In 1846, Congress returned the land originally ceded by Virginia; in 1871, it created a single municipal government for the remaining portion of the District.
Washington had an estimated population of 693,972 as of July 2017. Commuters from the surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbs raise the city's population to more than one million during the workweek. The Washington metropolitan area, of which the District is the principal city, has a population of over 6 million, the sixth-largest metropolitan statistical area in the country.
All three branches of the U.S. Federal Government are centered in the District: U.S. Congress (legislative), President (executive), and the U.S. Supreme Court (judicial). Washington is home to many national monuments and museums, which are primarily situated on or around the National Mall. The city hosts 177 foreign embassies as well as the headquarters of many international organizations, trade unions, non-profit, lobbying groups, and professional associations, including the Organization of American States, AARP, the National Geographic Society, the Human Rights Campaign, NASA, the International Finance Corporation, and the American Red Cross.
Choose the Right Paralegal Program near Washington DC
Selecting the ideal paralegal training program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Washington home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Several kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to review each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Washington DC.
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