How to Select a Paralegal Training Program near Westfield Massachusetts
Best Wishes regarding your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Westfield MA and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it’s important that you find the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students start by searching for paralegal schools within traveling range of their Westfield homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school should be considered also. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask prospective paralegal certificate schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your selection. But first, let’s have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
What is a Paralegal and What Do They Do?
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist attorneys in Westfield MA with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly 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 mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their regular tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a Westfield MA paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career in Westfield MA as a paralegal is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are an option as well. Once you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Massachusetts to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as a paralegal in Westfield MA.
Paralegal Online Classes
Online paralegal programs have become more popular and may be a good alternative for those in Westfield MA looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to those who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the process of assessing Westfield MA area schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to know 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 many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical issues to consider as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let’s go over 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 enroll in should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Westfield MA law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often available only for accredited schools.
What’s the School’s Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the Westfield MA paralegal schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Westfield MA legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Massachusetts legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School’s Location? Because laws differ from one state to another, it might be a good idea to select a paralegal school domiciled in the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially consider those schools that are within your Westfield MA local region.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don’t forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help reduce part of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school’s financial aid department to find out what is offered in Westfield MA. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Westfield MA, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose provides that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making-up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Considering Paralegal School in Westfield MA?
Westfield is a city in Hampden County, in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, United States. Westfield was first settled in 1660. It is part of the Springfield, Massachusetts Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 41,094 at the 2010 census.
The area was originally inhabited by the Pocomtuc tribe, and was called Woronoco (meaning "the winding land"). Trading houses were built in 1639–40 by settlers from the Connecticut Colony. Massachusetts asserted jurisdiction, and prevailed after a boundary survey. In 1647, Massachusetts made Woronoco part of Springfield. Land was incrementally purchased from the Native Americans and granted by the Springfield town meeting to English settlers, beginning in 1658. The area of Woronoco or "Streamfield" began to be permanently settled in the 1660s. In 1669, "Westfield" was incorporated as an independent town; in 1920, it would be re-incorporated as a city.
From its founding until 1725, Westfield was the westernmost settlement in the Massachusetts Colony, and portions of it fell within the Equivalent Lands. Town meetings were held in a church meeting house until 1839, when Town Hall was erected on Broad Street. This building also served as City Hall from 1920 to 1958. Due to its alluvial lands, the inhabitants of the Westfield area were entirely devoted to agricultural pursuits for about 150 years.
Early in the 19th century, manufacture of bricks, whips, and cigars became economically important. At one point in the 19th century, Westfield was a prominent center of the buggy whip industry, and the city is still known as the "Whip City". Other firms produced bicycles, paper products, pipe organs, boilers and radiators, textile machinery, abrasives, wood products, and precision tools. Westfield transformed itself from an agricultural town into a thriving industrial city in the 19th century, but in the second half of the 20th century its manufacturing base was eroded by wage competition in the U.S. Southeast, then overseas.
Enroll in the Right Paralegal Degree Program near Westfield MA
Selecting the right paralegal degree program is a crucial first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Westfield residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Different kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to assess each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Westfield MA.
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