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How to Pick the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Fort Payne Alabama

Fort Payne Alabama female paralegal consulting with client on cellphoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Fort Payne AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students start by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Fort Payne homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program ought to be taken into consideration also. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your decision. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Fort Payne Alabama law books

Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Fort Payne AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their daily tasks might involve:

  • Investigating and fact checking cases
  • Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
  • Preparing correspondence and legal documents
  • Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
  • Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
  • Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records

With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.

Paralegal Training and Certification

Fort Payne Alabama male legal assistant speaking on cellphone taking notes

As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Fort Payne AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.

Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Courses

Fort Payne Alabama female student attending paralegal online coursesOnline legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more popular and may be an excellent option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Fort Payne AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable organization, such as 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 might be the ideal option for you.

Things to Ask Paralegal Schools

Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible 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 so that you can compare each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other significant issues to research also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.

Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Fort Payne AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.

What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, such as 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 Fort Payne AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, 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 an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Fort Payne AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.

Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are well regarded and in demand.

Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it might be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to receive your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to first consider those schools that are within the Fort Payne AL region.

How Much is the Entire 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 training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be accessible to help minimize part of the expense, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Fort Payne AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.

Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while receiving their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Fort Payne AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you enroll in provides that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.

Learn More About Fort Payne Paralegal Training

Choose the Right Fort Payne Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program

Choosing the ideal paralegal studies training program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Fort Payne home. Paralegal training programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Various kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you decide to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right education you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Fort Payne Alabama.


 

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