How to Pick the Best Paralegal Studies School Near Andalusia Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Andalusia AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by searching for schools within driving distance of their Andalusia homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be taken into consideration also. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Andalusia AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their everyday tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Andalusia AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of 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 two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded certifying agencies in the profession are:
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- American Alliance of Paralegals
- National Association of Legal Assistants
- National Association for Legal Professionals
By graduating with a paralegal certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more available and can be a good alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Andalusia AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Andalusia AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. 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 already covered, there are other critical factors to think about also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Andalusia AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Andalusia AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Andalusia AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary among states, it might be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first investigate those schools that are within the Andalusia AL area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help minimize some of the expense, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Andalusia AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Andalusia AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making-up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Andalusia Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right legal assistant degree program is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Andalusia residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Several kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you elect to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the right education you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Andalusia Alabama.