How to Find the Right Paralegal Training Program Near Foley Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Foley AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Foley 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 college, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program must be considered too. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, only 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 classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Foley AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their everyday tasks might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Foley AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take as little as six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might want to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Courses
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more popular and can be an excellent option for students searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Foley AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training 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 example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Foley AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other critical factors to consider as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a reputable 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 training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Foley AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often offered only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Foley AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Foley AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ among states, it may be a good idea to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be important to establish relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first investigate those schools that are within the Foley AL area.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help offset part of the expense, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Foley AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Foley AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Foley Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right paralegal studies certificate program is a vital first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Foley home. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous formats and lengths. Different kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you elect to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to assess each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Foley Alabama.