How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Anniston Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Anniston AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Anniston homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into consideration as well. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your selection. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, just 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 classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Anniston AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their day-to-day tasks can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, 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 way to start your career as a paralegal in Anniston AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more prevalent and may be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Anniston AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Anniston AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical aspects to think about as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might 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 receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Anniston AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often available only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Anniston AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Anniston AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary among states, it may be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to first look at those colleges that are within the Anniston AL region.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be available to help offset some of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Anniston AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Anniston AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you select makes available that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making-up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Anniston Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal studies degree school is an essential first step toward your success in the gratifying 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 Anniston residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice 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 schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you decide to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to review each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Anniston Alabama.