Questions to Ask
Here are ten basic questions to ask if you are considering legal secretary training to make sure you are getting what you need.
Who are you?
You need to find out who is offering the training. Are they a storefront "school" that is making it on a class-by-class basis? How long has the organization been around? What is the organization's reputation? Also, if you contact the organization by phone, learn with whom you are talking. Many storefront training organizations hire sales people who are paid on commission. If their job depends on signing you up, then you have to ask if they will have your best interests at heart. Stetson University was founded in 1883 and is a small, high quality, private university composed of four strong colleges and schools, one of which is our prestigious law school. Stetson continues to build on its commitment to academic excellence by offering quality programs.
Who are the instructors?
Are your instructors qualified and experienced? For a program involving a profession dedicated to supporting lawyers, the best instructors are most likely practicing attorneys. The use of real lawyers as instructors may make a program slightly more expensive, but the benefits are clearly worth it.
How long is your course?
Some programs last six to eight months but you have to carefully scrutinize the program syllabus to find out when they actually start teaching you the "meat and potatoes" of what you have to know. Other programs offer three to five intensive classes and you have to wonder how much can you really learn in such a short time. Some community colleges offer two-year programs; actually we recommend these for students right out of high school without any work experience and who have the time for this length of endeavor.
What does your course cover?
You should take a close look at the course topics. Written communications, ethics and judgment, and legal knowledge are requirements for legal secretaries. Any program that does not cover these is doing a disservice to its participants. Legal knowledge subjects should include as a minimum: criminal law, family law, contract law, real estate law, the court system, litigation, torts, estate planning, estates and guardianships, and bankruptcy law. Courses tied to national certifications like NALS... the association for legal professionals have great credibility.
What materials are used in this program?
Ask about the course materials. You don't want three-ring binders and loose leaf sheets; nor do you want to mail assignments back and forth, always at the mercy of the postal system. You want comprehensive texts, multimedia presentations, review questions, and test-prep materials. You don't want to be just a "book" legal secretary who only knows what is in print; you want insights as to how law offices work. You want to discuss vignettes and true personal experiences as told by the attorneys who teach in the program.
How does your program work?
Ask if the program is truly online and what are its components. Playing videos of "talking heads" is something that will most likely be uninteresting. Find out how the program engages students so they'll want to learn and be enthusiastic about working in the course. Some people take online courses and never speak with a real person. Find out if the course has real interactions with real instructors.
What happens when I have a question?
You want to be able to reach your instructors when questions arise, not talk to a customer service representative. You need instructors who understand that you deserve prompt attention and will reply to your questions within a specified time period that will not delay your forward progress. Not only that, you need to find out if there are regularly scheduled meeting conferences that you and other students will be participating in with their instructor to allow opportunities to have questions answered and topics explained. Find out who handles other than course-specific questions. Is there a program administrator assigned to each student to handle the "paperwork" side of things to ensure a smooth start? Does this administrator have a name, phone number and email address provided to you so you don't have to worry about calling back and each time getting "someone new" that doesn't know you?
What is your cost?
Cost should not be the primary consideration - getting a quality program is. But cost is still a factor. The program cost should be listed on the organization's website. If not, you have to wonder if the idea is to make you speak by phone to one of those sales people working on commission. Also make sure you learn about all costs. Is there also an application fee? A technology fee? Costs for books and other materials? Shipping fees? If you have to dig to try to find the true cost of the program, you have to again wonder what the objective is and whose interests are primary. The Stetson University program cost ($895) is listed on the frequently asked questions page.