How to Select the Right Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Fairfield Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Fairfield AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by looking for schools within commuting range of their Fairfield homes. Of those options, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into account also. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your decision. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill comparable job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Fairfield AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their routine tasks might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. 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 action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Fairfield AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and receive a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded 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 school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more available and may be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Fairfield AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Schools
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Fairfield AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important issues to research also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization 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 focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Fairfield AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, 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 some Fairfield AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while attending school. They can also present an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Fairfield AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws vary from one state to another, it may be advantageous to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to first look at those colleges that are within the Fairfield AL region.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help reduce some of the expense, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Fairfield AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Fairfield AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making-up missed classes because of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Fairfield Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right legal assistant degree program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Fairfield residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, 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. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective 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 assess each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Fairfield Alabama.