How to Select the Best Paralegal Training Program Near Midfield Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Midfield AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational options are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by searching for schools within commuting range of their Midfield residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be considered as well. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your decision. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold the same job roles and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Midfield AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their regular activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Midfield AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and obtain 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 establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more popular and may be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Midfield AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online programs can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Since you now you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can start the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Midfield AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important factors to think about also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over a few 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 School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Midfield AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Midfield AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Midfield AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large 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? Since laws differ among states, it might be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be important to create relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first consider those schools that are within the Midfield AL region.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help reduce part of the cost, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Midfield AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Midfield AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you choose provides that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making-up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Midfield Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal degree program is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Midfield home. Paralegal training programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Various kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you elect to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each program and make your final selection. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Midfield Alabama.