How to Find the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Jacksonville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Jacksonville AL and start your journey that will result in a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are being offered, both at school and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Jacksonville homes. Of those options, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be taken into account as well. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your decision. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Jacksonville AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private firms, 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 adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their everyday activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not confined to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main 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 cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially 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 start your career as a paralegal in Jacksonville AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be earned 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 acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more available and can be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Jacksonville AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Schools
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Jacksonville AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important aspects to think about as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select need to be accredited by a highly regarded 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 learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential 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 school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying 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 determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Jacksonville AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start establishing contacts within the Jacksonville AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws differ among states, it might be advantageous to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to develop relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you choose to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to first look at those schools that are within the Jacksonville AL region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be accessible to help offset some of the cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Jacksonville AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, some of these added costs, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Jacksonville AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making-up classes missed because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Jacksonville Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies degree program is a crucial first step toward 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 privacy and comfort of your Jacksonville home. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Various kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, 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. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Jacksonville Alabama.