How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Atmore Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Atmore AL and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Atmore residences. Of those options, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be taken into consideration also. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold comparable job roles and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Atmore AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their daily activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training 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 academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Atmore AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more common and can be an excellent option for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Atmore AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Atmore AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant issues to consider also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a highly regarded 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 online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Atmore AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including 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 Atmore AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Atmore AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ from one state to another, it might be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially consider those colleges that are within the Atmore AL area.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential received and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be accessible to help offset part of the expense, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Atmore AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Atmore AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you select offers that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Atmore Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right paralegal studies training school is a crucial first step to guarantee 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 Atmore home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in many formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you decide to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Atmore Alabama.