How to Pick the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Chickasaw Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Chickasaw AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by looking for schools within driving distance of their Chickasaw residences. Of those options, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school must be taken into account also. 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 each one before making your selection. But before we do, 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.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill comparable job positions 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 classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Chickasaw AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their routine activities might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other 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 provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Chickasaw AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take just 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. Once you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected certifying organizations in the profession 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 obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more common and may be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Chickasaw AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online programs can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Chickasaw AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already 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 several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a recognized organization 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 training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Chickasaw AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Chickasaw AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Chickasaw AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering 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 corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ among states, it might be advantageous to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to create relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you choose 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 want to initially consider those schools that are within the Chickasaw AL region.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be available to help offset part of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Chickasaw AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, some of these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Chickasaw AL, make sure 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 protocol is for making up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Chickasaw Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal certificate program is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Chickasaw home. Paralegal education programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Several types of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you choose to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each school and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Chickasaw Alabama.