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How to Pick the Best Paralegal Certificate Program Near Foley Alabama

Foley Alabama woman paralegal speaking with client on phoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Foley AL and begin your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students start by looking for schools within traveling range of their Foley residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school need to be considered as well. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Legal Assistants and Paralegals

Foley Alabama law books

Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, 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 Foley AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. 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 practice could assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their everyday activities can include:

  • Researching and fact checking cases
  • Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
  • Composing correspondence and legal documents
  • Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
  • Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
  • Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records

With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite demanding. On the other hand, 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 restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.

Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification

Foley Alabama male legal assistant on cellphone writing notes

As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps 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 begin your career as a legal assistant in Foley AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some 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 program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.

Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools

Foley Alabama woman student attending online paralegal trainingOnline legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more common and may be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Foley AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the right choice for you.

Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs

Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices 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 Foley AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important factors to research as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.

Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Foley AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.

What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Foley AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.

Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin creating contacts within the Foley AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.

Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering 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 good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.

Where is the School's Location? Since laws differ from one state to another, it may be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to create relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first look at those schools that are within the Foley AL region.

How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be obtainable to help minimize part of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is available in Foley AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.

Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Foley AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you choose offers that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.

Learn More About Foley Paralegal Training

Enroll in the Right Foley Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program

Choosing the right paralegal degree program is a vital 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 participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Foley residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Different types of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you choose to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Foley Alabama.


 

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