How to Choose the Right Paralegal Training 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 satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic options are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Florence homes. Of those options, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school should be considered as well. Later in this post we will cover 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 take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold the same job positions and functions, just 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 Florence AL attorneys with a wide range 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 legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics 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 lawyers, they must perform with a high level 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 are employed, but some of their day-to-day activities may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Florence AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly regarded 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Training
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more prevalent and may be an excellent option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Florence AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Florence AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important issues to think about as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Florence AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Florence AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Florence AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement 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 substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws differ among states, it may be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to initially look at those schools that are within the Florence AL area.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential received and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help reduce part of the cost, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Florence AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, some of these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Florence AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you select makes available that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Florence Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal 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 at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Florence home. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Various kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you decide to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Florence Alabama.