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How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies Program Near Dothan Alabama

Dothan Alabama female paralegal speaking with client on phoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Dothan AL and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic options are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by searching for schools within commuting range of their Dothan residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program ought to be taken into account too. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Dothan Alabama law library

Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Dothan AL lawyers with a wide range of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their daily tasks may involve:

  • Researching and fact checking cases
  • Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
  • Composing correspondence and legal papers
  • Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
  • Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
  • Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records

With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.

Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification

Dothan Alabama male legal assistant speaking on phone taking notes

As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Dothan AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.

Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training

Dothan Alabama woman student enrolled in paralegal online trainingParalegal and legal assistant online programs have become more popular and may be a good option for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Dothan AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address 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 school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the ideal option for you.

Things to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs

Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Dothan AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial aspects to consider also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over a few 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 Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Dothan AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.

What's the Reputation of the School? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those provided 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 graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.

Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Dothan AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.

Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.

Where is the School Located? Because laws vary from one state to another, it may be beneficial to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be important to develop relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to receive your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially consider those schools that are within the Dothan AL area.

How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, 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 assistance might be accessible to help reduce some of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Dothan AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.

Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only 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 sure that the program you choose makes available that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making-up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.

Find Out More About Dothan Paralegal Schools

Enroll in the Right Dothan Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program

Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies training program is a vital first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Dothan home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in numerous lengths and formats. Different types of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you decide to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to assess each school and make your final decision. And with the right training you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Dothan Alabama.


 

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