How to Choose the Best Paralegal Training Program Near East Florence Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near East Florence AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by trying to find schools within traveling range of their East Florence residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into consideration too. Later on in this article we will cover a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your decision. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, only 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 category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist East Florence AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their routine tasks might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give 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. Legal assistants really are the right hand 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 volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites 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 require just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be obtained 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 degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more prevalent and can be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to East Florence AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can 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 education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better understanding 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 available at community and junior colleges in the East Florence AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant aspects to research as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous East Florence AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education 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 rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several East Florence AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the East Florence AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to initially look at those colleges that are within the East Florence AL area.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based 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 supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help reduce some of the expense, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in East Florence AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while receiving their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near East Florence AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you choose makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right East Florence Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the best legal assistant certificate school is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your East Florence home. Paralegal training programs are made available in many formats and lengths. Different kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you choose to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to examine each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in East Florence Alabama.