How to Choose the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Atmore Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Atmore AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic options are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by looking for schools within traveling range of their Atmore homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into account too. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your choice. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially 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 belong to a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Atmore AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. As an 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 typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their day-to-day activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Atmore AL is by earning a certificate, which may take as little as six months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be earned 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 also. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. 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 school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Training
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more popular and can be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Atmore AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the right option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Atmore AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant issues to think about also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at 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 final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency 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 distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Atmore AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking 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 contact a few Atmore AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Atmore AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ among states, it may be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be important to create relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first consider those schools that are within the Atmore AL area.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help offset some of the cost, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Atmore AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Atmore AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you choose makes available that option. Last, inquire what the process is for making-up classes missed because of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Atmore Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal training program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Atmore home. Paralegal education programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Several kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you elect to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Atmore Alabama.