How to Choose the Right Paralegal 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 profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational options are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by looking for schools within traveling range of their Auburn residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program must be considered too. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically 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 belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Auburn AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their everyday activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals 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 manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Auburn AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. After you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few 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 address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more prevalent and can be a good alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Auburn AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education 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 agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Auburn AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other crucial aspects to consider also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Auburn AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Auburn AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Auburn AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws vary from state to state, it may be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those schools that are within the Auburn AL area.
How Much is the Complete 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 expenditure for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be available to help minimize some of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Auburn AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Auburn AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in provides that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Auburn Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal studies training school is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Auburn residence. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous formats and lengths. Various types of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each program and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Auburn Alabama.