How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate Program Near Fairfield Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Fairfield AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students start by searching for schools within driving distance of their Fairfield homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program need to be considered too. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns 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 instructional options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill comparable job roles 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 different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Fairfield AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their regular activities may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Fairfield AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve just 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may want to continue and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Classes
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more common and can be a good option for students searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Fairfield AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools 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, 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 degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Fairfield AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant aspects to research also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a recognized organization 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 learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Fairfield AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Fairfield AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Fairfield AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates 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 choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to first consider those colleges that are within the Fairfield AL area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost 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 cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Fairfield AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Fairfield AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you select makes available that option. Last, find out what the process is for making up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Right Fairfield Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal degree program is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying 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 comfort and privacy of your Fairfield residence. Paralegal academic programs are offered in numerous lengths and formats. Several types of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you choose to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to assess each program and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Fairfield Alabama.