How to Pick the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate Program Near Athens Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Athens AL and start your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students start by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Athens residences. Of those options, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program should be considered as well. Later in this post 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 available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill comparable 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 belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Athens AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their regular activities may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers 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 role of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable 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 ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically 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 quickest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Athens AL is by earning a certificate, which may take as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. After you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment 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 address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Schools
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more common and can be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Athens AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Athens AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant 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 need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose 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 focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Athens AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Athens AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Bear 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 Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Athens AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ among states, it might be beneficial to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to build relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially investigate those schools that are within the Athens AL region.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help offset part of the expense, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Athens AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Athens AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you select provides that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making-up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Athens Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies training program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding 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 Athens residence. Paralegal training programs are made available in many formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to assess each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Athens Alabama.