How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Auburn Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Auburn AL and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is among 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? Many prospective students start by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Auburn residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into account as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your selection. 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.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both fill 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 separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Auburn AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private practices, 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 follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their regular activities may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more apropos 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, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees 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 prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Auburn AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may require just 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded certifying organizations 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 program (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Courses
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more popular and may be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Auburn AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can often be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into 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 setting, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Auburn AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial aspects to research as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Auburn AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Auburn AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Auburn AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job placement 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 confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it might be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to build 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 desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially consider those colleges that are within the Auburn AL region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help reduce part of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Auburn AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Auburn AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you select offers that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Auburn Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right legal assistant certificate school is an essential first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Auburn residence. Paralegal academic programs are provided in many formats and lengths. Different types of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you decide to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to evaluate each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Auburn Alabama.