How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies Program Near Florence Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Florence AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students start by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Florence residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program should be considered as well. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your choice. But first, let's have 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
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold the same job positions and responsibilities, 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 separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Florence 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 duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work 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 standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their daily tasks can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and very challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative duties 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, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Florence AL is by earning a certificate, which can take just six months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be earned at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your job opportunities, but help establish 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning 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 Paralegal and Legal Assistant Courses
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more available and may be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Florence AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online classes can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even secondary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Florence AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important aspects to think about also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Florence AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Florence AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also offer a means for students to start developing contacts within the Florence AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ among states, it may be a good idea to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to initially consider 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 expenditure for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be accessible to help reduce part of the cost, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Florence AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Florence AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you choose offers that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Florence Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right legal assistant degree program is an important 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 on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Florence home. Paralegal training programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Different kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you choose 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 final selection. And with the ideal education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Florence Alabama.