How to Choose the Right 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 gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students start by looking for schools within traveling range of their Anniston residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program must be considered as well. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Anniston AL lawyers with a wide range of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their regular activities might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative functions 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 ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training 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 educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Anniston AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Classes
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more popular and may be a good option for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Anniston AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Anniston AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can compare 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 begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical issues to think about as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over 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 final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Anniston AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, 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 a few Anniston AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Anniston AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws vary from state to state, it may be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to create relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Anniston AL area.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be accessible to help reduce part of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Anniston AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, some of these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Anniston AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you choose offers that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Anniston Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal studies certificate school is a crucial first step toward your success in the rewarding 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 privacy and comfort of your Anniston residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in many formats and lengths. Various types of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you elect to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to examine each program and make your final selection. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Anniston Alabama.