How to Find the Best Paralegal Studies Program Near Fairfield Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Fairfield AL and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by trying to find schools within driving range of their Fairfield residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be considered too. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your selection. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job positions and functions, just 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 help Fairfield AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their daily tasks may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical functions more suited 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 take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Fairfield AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded 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 program (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more popular and may be an excellent option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Fairfield AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Fairfield AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other significant issues 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 should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected 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 focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Fairfield AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often offered only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are considering. 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 education exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Fairfield AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Fairfield AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging 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 substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ from state to state, it may be beneficial to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to first investigate those schools that are within the Fairfield AL area.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help minimize part of the expense, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Fairfield AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Fairfield AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you select offers that option. Last, ask what the protocol is for making-up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Fairfield Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal training program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Fairfield residence. Paralegal education programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you elect to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to assess each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Fairfield Alabama.