How to Select a Paralegal Certificate Program near Williamsport Pennsylvania
Best Wishes regarding your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Williamsport PA and start your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it’s essential that you locate the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by trying to find paralegal schools within commuting distance of their Williamsport residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program must be considered as well. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal certificate schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your decision. But first, let’s take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational choices 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 the same job roles 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 assist lawyers in Williamsport PA with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with trial logistics or transferring files 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 carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their regular tasks might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a Williamsport PA paralegal can be complicated and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really 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 volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to start your career in Williamsport PA as a paralegal is by earning a certificate, which may take just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate’s Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor’s Degrees are offered also. Once you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Pennsylvania to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your career opportunities, but help substantiate 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as a paralegal in Williamsport PA.
Paralegal Online Schools
Paralegal online programs have become more popular and may be a good alternative for individuals in Williamsport PA looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater 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 disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the process of evaluating Williamsport PA area schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges, in addition to trade and vocational 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 looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant factors to consider as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let’s take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Williamsport PA law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What’s the Reputation of the School? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the Williamsport PA paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program 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 firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while still in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Williamsport PA legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Pennsylvania legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School’s Location? Since laws vary from state to state, it might be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in the state where you wish to work after graduation. In addition, it will be important to create relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to receive your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially investigate those colleges that are within your Williamsport PA local region.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don’t forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be accessible to help reduce some of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school’s financial aid office to find out what is offered in Williamsport PA. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Williamsport PA, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose makes available that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making-up classes missed due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Considering Paralegal School in Williamsport PA?
Williamsport officially The City of Williamsport is a city in and the county seat of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, United States. In 2009, the population was estimated at 29,304. It is the principal city of the Williamsport, Pennsylvania Metropolitan Statistical Area, which has a population of about 117,000.
The city is the cultural, financial, and commercial center of Central Pennsylvania. It is located 131 miles from Philadelphia, 166 miles from Pittsburgh and 67 miles from state capital Harrisburg as the crow flies. The city in renowned for its sports, arts scene and food.
Williamsport was settled by Americans late in the 18th century, and the town began to prosper due to its lumber industry. By the early 20th century, the town reached the height of its prosperity and the population has since declined by about a third from its peak of around 45,000 in 1950.
Williamsport is the birthplace of Little League Baseball. South Williamsport, a town nearby, is the headquarters of Little League Baseball and annually hosts the Little League World Series in late summer.
Choose the Ideal Paralegal Program near Williamsport PA
Choosing the best paralegal degree program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Williamsport residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you choose to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal education you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Williamsport PA.
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