How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies 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 gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you require 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 academic choices are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students start by looking for schools within driving distance of their Atmore homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you ought to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school should be considered too. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, 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 separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Atmore AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their day-to-day tasks can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Atmore AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may require as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Courses
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more popular and can be an excellent option for those searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Atmore AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Atmore AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must find out 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 also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical aspects to think about as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Atmore AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are often offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Atmore AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Atmore AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ from state to state, it might be advantageous to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to build relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to initially look at those colleges that are within the Atmore AL region.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be accessible to help reduce some of the expense, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Atmore AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Atmore AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you enroll in offers that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Atmore Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right paralegal studies training program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Atmore residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Atmore Alabama.