How to Pick a Paralegal Degree Program near West Stockbridge Massachusetts
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near West Stockbridge MA and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it’s important that you find the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students begin by trying to find paralegal schools within commuting distance of their West Stockbridge homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you ought to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school should be considered also. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal certificate schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let’s take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational 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. 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 paralegals and legal assistants assist attorneys in West Stockbridge MA with a wide range of job functions, including 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 might help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private practices, a paralegal’s work is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney’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 diverse in support of the firms where they work, but some of their day-to-day tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a West Stockbridge MA paralegal can be complicated and very challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career in West Stockbridge MA as a paralegal is by earning a certificate, which can require just 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor’s Degrees are available also. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Massachusetts to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few 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 benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as a paralegal in West Stockbridge MA.
Paralegal Online Degrees
Paralegal online programs have become more popular and may be a good alternative for individuals in West Stockbridge MA looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to those who keep working while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more 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 study in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating West Stockbridge MA area schools. But because there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. 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 discussed, there are other significant aspects to research as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of West Stockbridge MA law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited schools.
What’s the Reputation of the School? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the West Stockbridge MA paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, 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 several law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the West Stockbridge MA legal community. Find out 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 provided? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Massachusetts legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ among states, it might be beneficial to select a paralegal school domiciled in the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to first investigate those colleges that are within your West Stockbridge MA local area.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help offset some of the cost, so make sure to contact the school’s financial aid department to find out what is offered in West Stockbridge MA. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, some of these added costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near West Stockbridge MA, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you select makes available that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Considering Paralegal School in West Stockbridge MA?
West Stockbridge, Massachusetts
West Stockbridge was first settled in 1766 and was officially incorporated in 1774. The town grew out of Stockbridge, formerly known as Indiantown, and was originally called Queensborough. The area was part of the disputed border between Massachusetts and New York, which eventually left the town in its current state. The town grew as five separate villages (West Center, West Stockbridge, Freedleyville, Rockdale and Williamsville), with West Stockbridge growing the largest because of the railroad, which hauled iron ore and marble. The town had an ironworks in Williamsville, founded by Colonel Elijah Williams, and the furnace smokestack is the only part which remains of the works.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 18.7 square miles (48.4 km2), of which 18.5 square miles (47.8 km2) is land and 0.15 square miles (0.4 km2), or 1.23%, is water.
West Stockbridge is bordered on the north by Richmond, on the east by Stockbridge, on the south by Great Barrington, on the southwest by Alford, and on the west by Austerlitz and Canaan, New York. West Stockbridge is 11 miles (18 km) south-southwest of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, 50 miles (80 km) west-northwest of Springfield, 132 miles (212 km) west of Boston, and 36 miles (58 km) southeast of Albany, New York.
West Stockbridge is situated along the Williams River, a marshy tributary of the Housatonic River. To the northeast, West Stockbridge Mountain lies along the Stockbridge town line. To the southwest, Tom Ball Mountain rises above the Alford town line, and Harvey Mountain rises on the state border. Maple Hill rises in the center of town, and is covered by a wildlife management area.
Select the Best Paralegal School near West Stockbridge MA
Enrolling in the right paralegal training program is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your West Stockbridge home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to examine each program and make your final selection. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in West Stockbridge MA.
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