How to Find the Best Paralegal Studies Training Program Near Fairfield Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Fairfield AL and start your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students start by searching for schools within driving range of their Fairfield homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into account also. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Fairfield AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their routine activities might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Composing 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 managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Fairfield AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more prevalent and can be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Fairfield AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Fairfield AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical aspects to think about also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Fairfield AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying 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 confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Fairfield AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Fairfield AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ among states, it may be advantageous to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to create relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those colleges that are within the Fairfield AL area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be available to help minimize part of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Fairfield AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Fairfield AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you select makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making-up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Fairfield Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best paralegal training school 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 on-campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Fairfield residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each program and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Fairfield Alabama.