How to Pick the Right Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near East Florence Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near East Florence AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by looking for schools within commuting distance of their East Florence homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program need to be taken into consideration too. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill 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 separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist East Florence AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their routine activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really 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 Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in East Florence AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve just six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded 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 address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more popular and can be an excellent option for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to East Florence AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online classes can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the East Florence AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can compare 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 searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other crucial aspects to think about as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of East Florence AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of special 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 school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking 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 a few East Florence AL law firms that you may be interested 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 outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin developing contacts within the East Florence AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it might be advantageous to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to first investigate those schools that are within the East Florence AL region.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be accessible to help minimize part of the cost, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in East Florence AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near East Florence AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you choose makes available that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making up missed classes because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Choose the Best East Florence Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal studies degree program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your East Florence home. Paralegal training programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to examine each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in East Florence Alabama.