How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Athens Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Athens AL and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by trying to find schools within traveling range of their Athens homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school should be considered as well. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational 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 comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help 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 functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their day-to-day activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep 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 rather challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
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. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Athens AL is by earning a certificate, which may take just six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded 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 address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Classes
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more prevalent and can be an excellent alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Athens AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can often be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Athens AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant factors to think about also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick should be accredited by a highly regarded 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 focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Athens AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Athens AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Athens AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably wish 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 assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws vary from one state to another, it might be beneficial to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those schools that are within the Athens AL region.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be accessible to help reduce part of the cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Athens AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Athens AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Athens Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal certificate program is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Athens home. Paralegal education programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you decide to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to review each school and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Athens Alabama.