How to Select the Best Paralegal School Near Fort Payne Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Fort Payne AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students begin by looking for schools within commuting distance of their Fort Payne homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school should be taken into account as well. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Fort Payne AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the attorney'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 mentioned, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their everyday tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really 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 manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Fort Payne AL is by earning a certificate, which may take just 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. After you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might choose to proceed and earn 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 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 school (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more popular and may be an excellent option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Fort Payne AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least 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 thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Fort Payne AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant factors to think about 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 researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select should be accredited by a reputable 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 focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Fort Payne AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Fort Payne AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also provide 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 pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws vary among states, it might be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to establish relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to first look at those colleges that are within the Fort Payne AL area.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help reduce part of the expense, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Fort Payne AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Fort Payne AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you select makes available that option. Last, inquire what the process is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Fort Payne Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the best paralegal degree school is an essential first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, 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 academic programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you choose to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each school 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.