How to Select the Best Paralegal Studies Training Program Near Jacksonville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Jacksonville AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. 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 options are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students begin by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Jacksonville homes. Of those options, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program should be considered also. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill comparable 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 category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Jacksonville AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their regular activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Jacksonville AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take just six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career 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 address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Training
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more prevalent and may be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Jacksonville AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Jacksonville AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most 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 critical factors to think about also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Jacksonville AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Jacksonville AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Jacksonville AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that first job in a new field can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and good 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 may be beneficial to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially consider those colleges that are within the Jacksonville AL region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help minimize part of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Jacksonville AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these added costs, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Jacksonville AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you choose makes available that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making up missed classes due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Jacksonville Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal training school is a crucial first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Jacksonville residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you elect to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to review each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Jacksonville Alabama.