How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Athens Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Athens AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students start by searching for schools within driving range of their Athens homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school must be considered as well. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your choice. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold the same job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Athens AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their everyday tasks can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. 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 on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, 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 opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Athens AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve just six months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your career opportunities, but help substantiate 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 school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Courses
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more available and may be an excellent option for students searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Athens AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Athens AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical aspects to consider as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick 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 focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Athens AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out 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 field with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school 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 call some Athens AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Athens AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws vary from one state to another, it may be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to create relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially look at those colleges that are within the Athens AL area.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be accessible to help offset part of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Athens AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online school, some of 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 obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Athens AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you select offers that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making-up missed classes due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Athens Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right paralegal studies certificate program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Athens home. Paralegal education programs are offered in numerous 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 trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you elect to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Athens Alabama.