How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies Course Near Fairfield Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Fairfield AL and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to achieve success. As you probably know, 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. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students begin by searching for schools within commuting range of their Fairfield residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be taken into account too. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your decision. But first, let's take 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 hold 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 belong to a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Fairfield AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but some of their everyday activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. 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 action. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, 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 Fairfield AL is by earning a certificate, which may require just 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more common and may be a good alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Fairfield AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can often be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Fairfield AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other significant issues to consider also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Fairfield AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. 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 schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Fairfield AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Fairfield AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
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 located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to receive your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to first investigate those colleges that are within the Fairfield AL region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost 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 offset part of the expense, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Fairfield AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Fairfield AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you choose makes available that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making up missed classes because of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Fairfield Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal studies certificate program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Fairfield residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Different types of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you decide to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each program and make your final selection. And with the right education you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Fairfield Alabama.