How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate Program Near Florence Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Florence AL and begin your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by looking for schools within commuting range of their Florence residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be considered too. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Florence AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. 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 could assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour 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 stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their routine activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Florence AL is by earning a certificate, which can take just six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and earn a certification. Although 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 as well. A few of the highly regarded 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more popular and can be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Florence AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can often be less expensive 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 programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Florence AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial factors to think about as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick need to be accredited by a reputable organization 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 training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Florence AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Florence AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Florence AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ from one state to another, it might be a good idea to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. Also, it will be important to establish relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to first investigate those colleges that are within the Florence AL region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can differ 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 might be obtainable to help reduce part of the expense, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Florence AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Florence AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Florence Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right paralegal studies degree program is a crucial first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Florence residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Several types of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you decide to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to examine each school and make your final selection. And with the right education you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Florence Alabama.