How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Certificate Program Near Fort Payne Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Fort Payne AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational options are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Fort Payne residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program ought to be taken into account as well. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, just 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 category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Fort Payne AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but some of their routine tasks can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to clerical or administrative tasks more suited 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 ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle 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 possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Fort Payne AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may require just 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide 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 offered also. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded certifying agencies in the field 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 benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Schools
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more available and may be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Fort Payne AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected agency, 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 may be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Fort Payne AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must know 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 also. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other crucial factors to research also, such as 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 considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose 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 online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous 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 programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Fort Payne AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also provide a means for students to begin developing contacts within the Fort Payne AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws vary among states, it might be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to initially look at those colleges that are within the Fort Payne AL area.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help reduce part of the expense, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Fort Payne AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Fort Payne AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose makes available that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Fort Payne Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal studies training program is a crucial 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 academic programs are made available in many formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you decide to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each school and make your final decision. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Fort Payne Alabama.