How to Select the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate Program Near Lincoln Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Lincoln AL and begin your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's important that you find the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic options are becoming available, both at school and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? A number of prospective students begin by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Lincoln residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school must be considered as well. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns 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 exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both fill comparable job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Lincoln AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their daily activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready 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 complicated and very challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
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. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a paralegal in Lincoln AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 school (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more common and may be an excellent option for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Lincoln AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Lincoln AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most potential students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other critical factors to think about also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in 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 focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Lincoln AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are often offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Lincoln AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while attending school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Lincoln AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws differ from one state to another, it might be beneficial to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the community where you choose 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 wish to first consider those schools that are within the Lincoln AL area.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be accessible to help reduce some of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Lincoln AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Lincoln AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in offers that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making-up missed classes because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Lincoln Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal certificate program is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Lincoln home. Paralegal education programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Several types of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating 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 ultimate decision. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Lincoln Alabama.