How to Find the Best Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Florence Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Florence AL and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students begin by trying to find schools within traveling range of their Florence homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program must be taken into account also. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill comparable job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, 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 Florence AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with the logistics of a trial 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 attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their day-to-day tasks may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly 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 begin your career as a legal assistant in Florence AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just 6 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 obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal 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 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 address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Courses
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more popular and may be a good alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Florence AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education 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 highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can start the process of assessing schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Florence 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 particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important issues to consider as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Florence AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, 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 a few Florence AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Florence AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance 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 graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws vary from one state to another, it may be beneficial to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to first investigate those colleges that are within the Florence AL area.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help reduce some of the cost, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Florence AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, some of these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just 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 enroll in makes available that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making-up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Florence Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right paralegal studies certificate 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 option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Florence home. Paralegal education programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you choose to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to review each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Florence Alabama.