How to Pick the Right Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Dixiana Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Dixiana AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the right 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 more and more academic options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within commuting range of their Dixiana residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program must be considered too. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your choice. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill comparable job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Dixiana AL lawyers with a wide range 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 are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their everyday activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps 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 launch your career as a legal assistant in Dixiana AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve just six months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career 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 program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more prevalent and may be an excellent option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Dixiana AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program 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 formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Dixiana AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant factors to think about also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive 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 obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Dixiana AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, 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 Dixiana AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also present a means for students to start creating contacts within the Dixiana AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ from one state to another, it may be advantageous to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to first consider those colleges that are within the Dixiana AL area.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential earned and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help minimize some of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Dixiana AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Dixiana AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you select provides that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Dixiana Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the best legal assistant certificate school is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Dixiana residence. Paralegal education programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Various kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program 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 opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you elect to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to examine each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Dixiana Alabama.