How to Choose the Right Paralegal Certificate Program Near Fort Payne Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Fort Payne AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students start by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Fort Payne residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be considered too. Later on 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 prior to making your choice. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Fort Payne AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, 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 may help with the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their everyday tasks can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Fort Payne AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed 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 employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected 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 school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more common and can be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Fort Payne AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in more 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 program and school you are considering are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the right option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding 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 offered at community and junior colleges in the Fort Payne AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial factors to research as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Fort Payne AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Fort Payne AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also present a means for students to begin establishing contacts within the Fort Payne AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ among states, it may be a good idea to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially look at those colleges that are within the Fort Payne AL region.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in price based on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be available to help minimize part of the cost, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Fort Payne AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Fort Payne AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you select makes available that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Fort Payne Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal degree program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Fort Payne residence. Paralegal academic programs are provided in many formats and lengths. Different kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, 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 career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to assess each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right education you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Fort Payne Alabama.