How to Choose a Paralegal Certificate Program near Westport Massachusetts
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Westport MA and start your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. However, it’s important that you find the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by trying to find paralegal schools within driving range of their Westport homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program ought to be taken into account too. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal certificate schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let’s have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic 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 basically both hold comparable job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help attorneys in Westport MA with a wide range of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, 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 level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their everyday activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a Westport MA paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks 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 take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career in Westport MA as a paralegal is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 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 many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered as well. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Massachusetts to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations in the field 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 school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as a paralegal in Westport MA.
Paralegal Online Programs
Paralegal online programs have become more available and can be a good alternative for individuals in Westport MA looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can begin the process of evaluating Westport MA area schools. But since there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to evaluate 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 potential 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 critical factors to consider as well, such as 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 programs you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Westport MA law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the School? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the Westport MA paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several law practices that you may have an interest 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 may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Westport MA legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering 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 Massachusetts legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it might be a good idea to choose a paralegal school located in the state where you want to work after graduating. Also, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to first consider those colleges that are within your Westport MA local region.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential received and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help minimize some of the cost, so don’t forget to contact the school’s financial aid department to find out what is available in Westport MA. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Westport MA, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose offers that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making up missed classes because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Considering Paralegal School in Westport MA?
The village of North Westport lies in the town. Other named areas of the town are "Westport Point" with the dock on the Westport River where Main Road meets the river, "Central Village" with town offices, retail stores and businesses, "Head of Westport" at the head of the east branch of the river and the area referred to either as "Acoaxet" or "Westport Harbor," which is between the west branch of the river and Rhode Island. This area is actually cut off from the rest of Massachusetts by water and Rhode Island.
Westport, so named because it was the westernmost port in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was first settled in 1670 as a part of the town of Dartmouth by members of the Sisson family. The river, and the land around it, was called "Coaksett" in the original deed; the name, now spelled "Acoaxet," lives on in the southwestern community along the western branch of the Westport River. Like many areas in the region, Westport was affected by King Philip's War, when the native Wampanoag population rebelled against the oppression of the English settlers. Several small mills were built along the Westport River, and in 1787, the town, along with the town of New Bedford, seceded from Dartmouth.
During the late 18th century, into the early 19th century, a Quaker businessman, sea captain, patriot, and abolitionist named Paul Cuffee and his wife settled in the town, on the banks of the Westport River where he launched a shipyard. Cuffee became one of the richest free blacks in the United States at the time, and helped the effort to try to emigrate black slaves to Sierra Leone in Africa.
There were several cotton mills along the river, the largest of which was at the junction of the river with Lake Noquochoke on the Dartmouth town line. The Macomber turnip traces its ancestry to turnips sowed in Westport shortly after 1876. During the Second World War, a coastal defense installation was raised on Gooseberry Island. The town is now mostly residential, with a large farming community. Horseneck Beach State Reservation, located to the north and west of Gooseberry Island, is a popular summer destination for many in the area.
Select the Best Paralegal Certificate Program near Westport MA
Selecting the best paralegal degree program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Westport residence. Paralegal training programs are made available in many formats and lengths. Several types of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities 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 opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you decide to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to review each program and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Westport MA.
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