How to Find the Best Paralegal Certificate Program Near Athens Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Athens AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students start by trying to find schools within driving range of their Athens residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be considered too. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold comparable job positions and functions, just 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 classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Athens AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but some of their day-to-day activities may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
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. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Athens AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected 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 benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Certificates and Degrees
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more prevalent and can be an excellent option for students looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Athens AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded 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 might be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Athens AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial factors to think about as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Athens AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often available only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Athens AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Athens AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws differ from one state to another, it might be advantageous to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to build relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially investigate those schools that are within the Athens AL area.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be accessible to help reduce some of the cost, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Athens AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Athens AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you select offers that option. Last, find out what the process is for making-up missed classes because of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Athens Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal training school is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Athens residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Different kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you decide to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to review each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Athens Alabama.