How to Pick the Right Paralegal Studies Program Near Dothan Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Dothan AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students begin by searching for schools within driving range of their Dothan residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be taken into account also. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your selection. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Dothan AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically 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 fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Dothan AL is by earning a certificate, which can require as little as six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more popular and may be a good alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Dothan AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs available at junior and community 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 particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. 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 already covered, there are other critical aspects to consider also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating 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 select should be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify 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 as well. A number of Dothan AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, 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 paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Dothan AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Bear 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 School Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also present an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Dothan AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it might be a good idea to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to receive your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially investigate those schools that are within the Dothan AL area.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be available to help offset some of the expense, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Dothan AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, some of these added 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 obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Dothan AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making-up missed classes due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Dothan Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal studies degree program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Dothan residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Different types of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you decide to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to evaluate each program and make your final decision. And with the right training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Dothan Alabama.