How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies Training Program Near Midfield Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Midfield AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Midfield residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program need to be considered as well. Later on in this article we will review a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's take 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
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, 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 paralegals and legal assistants assist Midfield AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their day-to-day tasks may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and rather demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable 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, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Midfield AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve just 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may want to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. 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 school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more available and can be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Midfield AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online schools can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Midfield AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important aspects to consider also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also get 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 receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Midfield AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Midfield AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Midfield AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it might be beneficial to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. Also, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially look at those schools that are within the Midfield AL area.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential received and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be obtainable to help reduce part of the cost, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Midfield AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Midfield AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the school you enroll in provides that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making-up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Midfield Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right legal assistant degree program is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Midfield residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Different kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Midfield Alabama.