How to Choose the Best Paralegal Training Program Near Jasper Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Jasper AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students begin by searching for schools within driving distance of their Jasper residences. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you should take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into account too. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess 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.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same 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 are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Jasper AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their daily activities might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and stay 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 complex and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a legal assistant in Jasper AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve just 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive 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 obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Schools
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more available and may be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Jasper AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Jasper AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical aspects to research as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a recognized 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 distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Jasper AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call a few Jasper AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also present a means for students to start developing contacts within the Jasper AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Find out 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 large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it may be beneficial to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to acquire your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to first investigate those colleges that are within the Jasper AL area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help offset some of the expense, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Jasper AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Jasper AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you choose provides that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Jasper Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the best legal assistant degree school is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Jasper residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Different kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you decide to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate training you can accomplish your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Jasper Alabama.