How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Course Near Jacksonville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Jacksonville AL and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students begin by searching for schools within driving range of their Jacksonville residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you must take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be taken into consideration as well. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill the same job roles and functions, only 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 assist Jacksonville AL lawyers with a wide range of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their routine activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really 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 take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Jacksonville AL is by earning a certificate, which may require just six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory 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. Some of the highly regarded certifying organizations 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 program (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Certificates and Degrees
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more available and can be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Jacksonville AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover 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 considering are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Jacksonville AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many prospective 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 crucial issues to research also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a recognized 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 distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Jacksonville AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Jacksonville AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also offer a means for students to start establishing contacts within the Jacksonville AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing 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 want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws differ among states, it might be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be important to build relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the community where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Jacksonville AL region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be accessible to help offset part of the cost, so be sure to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Jacksonville AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of legal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Jacksonville AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you choose provides that option. Last, inquire what the process is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Jacksonville Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the ideal legal assistant degree school is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Jacksonville residence. Paralegal academic programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Jacksonville Alabama.