How to Find the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate Program Near Florence Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Florence AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students begin by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Florence residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be taken into consideration also. Later in this post 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 decision. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill the same job roles and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Florence AL lawyers with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific 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 practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and adhere to 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 regular activities may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
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 educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a paralegal in Florence 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 earned at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed 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 career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded certifying organizations 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 cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more prevalent and may be a good alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Florence AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Florence 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 especially true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other crucial issues to research also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Florence AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Florence AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Florence AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it may be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to create relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially look at those schools that are within the Florence AL region.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. 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 as well. Financial assistance might be accessible to help reduce part of the cost, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Florence AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Florence AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you select offers that option. Last, ask what the process is for making-up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Florence Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right paralegal studies degree school is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Florence residence. Paralegal training programs are provided in various formats and lengths. Several kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you decide to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the right education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Florence Alabama.