How to Pick the Best Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Jacksonville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Jacksonville AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic options are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by looking for schools within traveling range of their Jacksonville residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school should be considered as well. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both fill the same job positions and responsibilities, 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 separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Jacksonville AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their everyday tasks can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more apropos 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 preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Jacksonville AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your employment 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more popular and can be an excellent option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Jacksonville AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a highly regarded organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Jacksonville AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must find out 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 also. If you are like most potential students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important aspects to consider as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Jacksonville AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent 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 call a few Jacksonville AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Jacksonville AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication 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? Because laws differ among states, it might be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you choose 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 may wish to initially consider those colleges that are within the Jacksonville AL area.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential received and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be available to help minimize part of the expense, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Jacksonville AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while receiving their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Jacksonville AL, make sure classes are offered 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, find out what the procedure is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Jacksonville Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the right legal assistant training school is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Jacksonville residence. Paralegal education programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you elect to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your final decision. And with the right training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Jacksonville Alabama.