How to Choose a Paralegal College near Tampa Florida
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Tampa FL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it’s important that you find the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students begin by looking for paralegal schools within commuting distance of their Tampa homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you ought to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be taken into consideration also. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal certificate schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your selection. But before we do, let’s take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational 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 for the most part both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist attorneys in Tampa FL with a wide range of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the attorney’s. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their everyday tasks can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a Tampa FL paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably 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 start your career in Tampa FL as a paralegal is by obtaining a certificate, which may require as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate’s Degree, which offer 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. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Florida to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as a paralegal in Tampa FL.
Paralegal Online Certificates
Paralegal online programs have become more available and may be a good option for those in Tampa FL searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to those who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online schools can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a reputable organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Schools
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating Tampa FL area schools. But since there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical factors to research as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may 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 obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Tampa FL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the School? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the Tampa FL paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Tampa FL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Florida legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School’s Location? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school domiciled in the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to create relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to first look at those colleges that are within your Tampa FL local area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential earned and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help offset some of the expense, so make sure to consult with the school’s financial aid department to see what is offered in Tampa FL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, some of these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Tampa FL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making-up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Considering Paralegal School in Tampa FL?
Tampa (/ˈtæmpə/) is a major city in, and the county seat of, Hillsborough County, Florida, United States. It is on the west coast of Florida on Tampa Bay, near the Gulf of Mexico, and is the largest city in the Tampa Bay Area. The city had a population of 335,709 at the 2010 census, and an estimated population of 377,165 in 2016.
Archaeological evidence indicates the shores of Tampa Bay were inhabited by indigenous peoples for thousands of years. The Safety Harbor culture developed in the area around the year 1000 AD, and the descendant Tocobaga and Pohoy chiefdoms were living in or near the current city limits of Tampa when the area was first visited by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. Interactions between native peoples and the Spanish were brief and often violent, and although the newcomers did not stay for long, they introduced European diseases which brought the collapse of native societies across the Florida peninsula over the ensuing decades. Although Spain claimed all of Florida and beyond as part of New Spain, it did not found a colony on the west coast. After the disappearance of the indigenous populations, there were no permanent settlements in the Tampa Bay area until after the United States acquired Florida from Spain in 1821.
In 1824, the United States Army established a frontier outpost called Fort Brooke at the mouth of the Hillsborough River, near the site of today's Tampa Convention Center downtown. The first civilian residents were pioneer ranchers and farmers who settled near the fort for protection from the nearby Seminole population. The town grew slowly, and had become a minor shipping port for cattle and citrus by the time of the United States Civil War. Tampa Bay was blockaded by the United States Navy during the war, and Tampa fell into a long period of economic stagnation that continued long after the war ended. The situation finally improved in the 1880s, when the first railroad links, the discovery of phosphate, and the arrival of the cigar industry jump-started its development, helping Tampa to grow from an isolated village with less than 800 residents in 1880 to a bustling city of over 30,000 by the early 1900s.
Today, Tampa is part of the metropolitan area most commonly referred to as the "Tampa Bay Area". For U.S. Census purposes, Tampa is part of the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida Metropolitan Statistical Area. The four-county area is composed of roughly 2.9 million residents, making it the second largest metropolitan statistical area (MSA) in the state, and the fourth largest in the Southeastern United States, behind Miami, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. The Greater Tampa Bay area has over 4 million residents and generally includes the Tampa and Sarasota metro areas.
Choose the Best Paralegal Certificate Program near Tampa FL
Enrolling in the best paralegal training program is a crucial 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 at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Tampa home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Various types of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each program and make your final decision. And with the right education you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Tampa FL.
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