How to Pick the Best Paralegal Program Near Atmore Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Atmore AL and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students begin by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Atmore homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into account as well. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold comparable 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 category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Atmore AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their day-to-day tasks can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide 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. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Atmore AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more available and may be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Atmore AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online programs 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 caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Atmore AL area, as well as vocational and trade 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 start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other critical aspects to think about also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also obtain 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 obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Atmore AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Atmore 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 if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Atmore AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it may be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to build relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially consider those schools that are within the Atmore AL area.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help minimize part of the expense, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Atmore AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Atmore AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you choose makes available that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making-up classes missed because of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Atmore Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies certificate program is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Atmore home. Paralegal training programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your final selection. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Atmore Alabama.