How to Find the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree 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 result in a satisfying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students start by trying to find schools within traveling range of their Fort Payne homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking a school, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be considered too. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job roles and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Fort Payne AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their day-to-day activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
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 educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Fort Payne AL is by earning a certificate, which can take as little as six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Training
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more common and may be a good alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Fort Payne AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online schools can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training 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 respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Fort Payne 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 add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant factors to consider as well, including 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 investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency 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 targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Fort Payne AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Fort Payne AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer a means for students to start creating contacts within the Fort Payne AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication 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 Campus Located? Because laws vary from one state to another, it may be a good idea to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially look at those schools that are within the Fort Payne AL region.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be obtainable to help offset some of the expense, so make sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Fort Payne AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Fort Payne AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you enroll in provides that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Fort Payne Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best legal assistant certificate school is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Fort Payne residence. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you choose to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to assess each school and make your final decision. And with the right training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Fort Payne Alabama.