How to Choose the Best Paralegal Certificate or 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 satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by looking for schools within traveling range of their East Florence residences. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be considered also. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help East Florence AL lawyers with a wide range of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their daily activities may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and very challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a legal assistant in East Florence AL is by earning a certificate, which may take as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may want to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more prevalent and can be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to East Florence AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary 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 greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the right option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the East Florence AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial issues to consider as well, such as the reputation and accreditation 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 effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of East Florence 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 obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some East Florence AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start establishing contacts within the East Florence AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance 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 substantiates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it may be a good idea to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to build relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you desire 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 wish to initially investigate those colleges that are within the East Florence AL area.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be available to help minimize some of the cost, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in East Florence AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, some of these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? A number of 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 East Florence AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in provides that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making up missed classes because of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right East Florence Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal studies certificate school is an essential 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 East Florence home. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program 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 programs, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you decide to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to review each program and make your final decision. And with the ideal training you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in East Florence Alabama.