How to Choose the Best Paralegal 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 satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably understand, 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 options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Anniston homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you ought to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school should be considered as well. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your decision. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available 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. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Anniston AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their daily tasks can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a paralegal in Anniston AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take as little as 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. When you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may want to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded certifying organizations in the field 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 school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more available and can be an excellent option for students looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Anniston AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure 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 reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Anniston AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other crucial issues to consider as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Anniston AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Anniston AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. 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 Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also provide a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Anniston AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it may be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to first look at those colleges that are within the Anniston AL area.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential earned and the length 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 assistance might be available to help minimize some of the cost, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Anniston AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Anniston AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Last, inquire what the process is for making-up missed classes because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Anniston Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal degree program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Anniston residence. Paralegal education programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Several types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to review each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Anniston Alabama.