How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate Program Near Dothan Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Dothan AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find 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 among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational options are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Dothan residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be considered too. Later in this post we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your decision. 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
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill comparable job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, 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 Dothan AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their regular tasks can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals 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 handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, 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 Dothan AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Classes
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more available and may be an excellent alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Dothan AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater 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 school and program you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Dothan AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most potential students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial issues to think about as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Dothan AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, 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 a few Dothan AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Dothan AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ among states, it may be advantageous to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be important to establish relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially look at those colleges that are within the Dothan AL region.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be available to help reduce part of the cost, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Dothan AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, some of these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Dothan AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you select provides that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making up classes missed because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Dothan Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right paralegal degree school is a crucial 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 privacy and comfort of your Dothan home. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects 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 be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you elect to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to assess each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Dothan Alabama.