How to Choose the Best Paralegal Degree 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 satisfying career in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the right 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 educational choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Dothan residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program ought to be taken into consideration too. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your decision. 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
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, 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 lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with the logistics of a trial or transferring 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 attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their routine activities might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. 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 limited to administrative or clerical duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Dothan AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require just six months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be earned at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. After you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few 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 address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Training
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more prevalent and can be an excellent option for those searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Dothan AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online classes can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Dothan AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical aspects to think about also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Dothan AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Dothan AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while attending school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Dothan AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ from one state to another, it might be beneficial to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. Also, it will be important to build relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially look at those schools that are within the Dothan AL region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential received and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce part of the cost, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Dothan AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Dothan AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you choose makes available that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Dothan Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best legal assistant training program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Dothan home. Paralegal training programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you elect to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to examine each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Dothan Alabama.