How to Select the Right Paralegal Certificate 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 fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students begin by searching for schools within driving distance of their Jacksonville residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you ought to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program should be taken into consideration as well. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your decision. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold the same job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, 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 range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific 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 delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed by the hour 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 stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their routine activities might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos 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 ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, 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 means to start your career as a legal assistant in Jacksonville AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more expansive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might want to proceed and receive 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. 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more popular and may be a good option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Jacksonville AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Jacksonville AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most potential students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant issues to research also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive 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 standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Jacksonville AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Jacksonville AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start 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 are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it might be advantageous to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to initially consider those colleges that are within the Jacksonville AL area.
How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. 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 minimize some of the cost, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Jacksonville AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Jacksonville AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the program you choose makes available that option. Finally, find out what the process is for making-up missed classes because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Best Jacksonville Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal training school is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Jacksonville home. Paralegal training programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Various kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, 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 impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you choose to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to review each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Jacksonville Alabama.