How to Pick the Best Paralegal Training Program Near Dothan Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Dothan AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Dothan residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you need to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be taken into consideration also. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly 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 hold comparable job roles and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Dothan AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically 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 duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their daily tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Dothan AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve 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 earned at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 2 essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Certificates and Degrees
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more popular and can be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Dothan AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools 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 online schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure 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 instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Schools
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Dothan AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important aspects to consider also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also get 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 establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Dothan AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Dothan AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation 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 exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also offer a means for students to start developing contacts within the Dothan AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing 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 good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ from one state to another, it might be a good idea to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you wish to practice. 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 wish to initially consider those schools that are within the Dothan AL region.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help reduce some of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Dothan AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Dothan AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you enroll in provides that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Dothan Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the best paralegal studies degree program is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Dothan home. Paralegal education programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Different kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you decide to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Dothan Alabama.