Excellent question. An attorney is an individual with a juris doctorate degree who, if properly licensed, is authorized to practice law in a particular geographic area or in front of a particular court. This means that an attorney may represent clients in court, render legal advice, and sign court documents and other legal papers. A paralegal, on the other hand, is a professional who provides legal services under the supervision of an attorney. A paralegal is not allowed to represent clients in court, render legal advice, or sign documents or other legal papers. A paralegal typically evaluates cases, conducts client and witness interviews, drafts court pleadings and motions, performs legal research, prepares legal documents, manages and organizes case files, and helps attorneys prepare for trials and hearings. Even though a paralegal is not permitted to practice law, an attorney relies heavily upon the work performed by a paralegal. In fact, it is not uncommon for a paralegal to know more about a particular area of law than the attorney.
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Yes, there are several professional organizations at both the national and state level that promote the interests of the paralegal profession and offer paralegals support and networking services.
Another good question, and the answer may vary from individual to individual. First, law school is expensive — very expensive. Law school graduates incur substantial debt, usually extending into six figures ($100,000+). Although attorneys have the potential to make a lot of money, most new attorneys start at modest salaries; some law school graduates have little, if any, money left over after paying their monthly student loan bills. Second, being an attorney is stressful and is accompanied by the potential of liability. A business client may lose millions of dollars if a civil case is lost, or a criminal defense client may be placed on death row if a criminal case is lost. Being a paralegal offers the best of both worlds: although a paralegal is not allowed to practice law, a paralegal nevertheless gets to perform many of the tasks done by attorneys — without much of the stress — and receives a respectful salary in the process.
It depends on a variety of factors. According to the 2004 National Utilization and Compensation Survey Report published by the National Association of Legal Assistants, the top three factors that determine a paralegal’s compensation (salary plus bonus) are level of general education, population of the city, and years of experience. In 2004, the national average compensation of a paralegal was $46,862, the national average compensation of a paralegal with five or less years of experience was $35,434, and the regional average compensation of a paralegal in the plains states was $42,694.
Again, it depends on a variety of factors. Generally speaking, it is easier to find employment as a paralegal in the more populated cities, although some rural law firms and governmental agencies do employ paralegals. Incidentally, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook (2006-07) published by the United States Department of Labor, the paralegal profession is projected to “grow much faster than average.”
Our curriculum incorporates both the theoretical components of learning the law and the practical aspects of being a paralegal. For example, in our Wills, Trusts and Estate Administration course, not only will you learn about wills, but you will also learn how to draft wills. In our Torts and Litigation course, not only will you learn about lawsuits, but you will also learn how to draft lawsuits. Iowa Lakes invests in a variety of practice manuals, legal software, and computerized media to make the learning process easier and more efficient so that you will know what to do when you enter the real world.
Although class size varies from course to course, the typical paralegal class is between 8 and 15 students. The smaller class sizes facilitate class discussion, an integral component of the learning process that improves a future paralegal’s analytical and communication skills.
Most of the paralegal courses are taught at the Estherville Campus. Many of the general education courses are taught at different campus locations, including Estherville, Spencer, Spirit Lake, Emmetsburg, and Algona.
A few of the paralegal courses are offered on the Internet, but most are taught face-to-face at the Estherville Campus. This is because most of the paralegal courses require hands-on work in order to master particular skills. Students have commented that the frequent hands-on activity made it easier for them to learn new skills.
Yes, and it’s quite impressive. Our law library is stocked with thousands of volumes, including reporters (that contain caselaw), statutes (that contain state and federal laws), rule books (that contain procedural court rules), and research aids, including digests, legal encyclopedias, form books, and legal manuals. In fact, most of the paralegal courses are held in the law library.
We have that, too. Each student enrolled in the Paralegal/Legal Studies Program receives a password to Westlaw and LEXIS, both of which offer computerized legal research services. You may access Westlaw and LEXIS over the Internet. You will learn how to use Westlaw and LEXIS during the Legal Research course.
Yes. The trial team consists of between 6 and 8 students who will assume the roles of attorneys and witnesses in a hypothetical civil or criminal case. The trial team will practice between October and February. Regional competitions are held in the Midwest during January and February. National competitions are held in March. A student may receive up to 3 hours worth of Independent Study credit for participating on the trial team. Depending on student interest, the college may have multiple trial teams.
Yes. The courses taught in our program are similar to those taught at law school, although the law school curriculum explores the law in greater detail and is significantly more rigorous than a typical paralegal program. That being said, a paralegal program nevertheless provides a stable academic foundation to a student who is thinking about attending law school. If you are considering law school as an option, be sure to mention it to your advisor, who will probably recommend an Associate in Arts Degree instead of an Associate in Science Degree.
In order to gain admittance to law school, a student must have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. In most cases, a bachelor’s degree can be obtained in four years. A typical law school degree, or juris doctorate, can be obtained in three years. This means that in most cases, at least 7 years of higher education is needed in order to complete law school.
Yes. Iowa Lakes Community College offers a two-plus-two transfer program with Buena Vista University, which has an office at the college’s Estherville campus. After finishing two years at Iowa Lakes, a student can seamlessly transfer to Buena Vista and obtain a social science bachelor’s degree. The two- plus-two transfer program is both convenient and cost-effective. Be sure to tell your advisor if you are interested in this option.
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