How to Choose the Best Paralegal Degree Program Near Anniston Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Anniston AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you require 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 educational options are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students begin by searching for schools within commuting range of their Anniston residences. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program should be considered too. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your decision. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Anniston AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their regular tasks might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks 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 preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a paralegal in Anniston AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more common and can be an excellent option for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Anniston AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Anniston AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important issues to think about as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Anniston AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Anniston AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Anniston AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it may be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first investigate those colleges that are within the Anniston AL area.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be available to help minimize part of the expense, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Anniston AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Anniston AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you select makes available that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Anniston Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal studies certificate program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Anniston home. Paralegal training programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, 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 career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you elect to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to assess each program and make your final decision. And with the right education you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Anniston Alabama.