How to Pick the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Muscle Shoals Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Muscle Shoals AL and start your journey that will result in a satisfying profession in legal services. However, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic options are being offered, both at school and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students begin by looking for schools within traveling range of their Muscle Shoals homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important 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 ought to be considered too. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, 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 paralegals and legal assistants assist Muscle Shoals AL lawyers 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 practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their day-to-day activities can involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep 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 involved and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Muscle Shoals AL is by earning a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more extensive education and can be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your job 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 school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more popular and may be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Muscle Shoals AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss 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 certain that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a reputable agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are available, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Muscle Shoals 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 when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial issues to consider also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Muscle Shoals AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact several Muscle Shoals AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also present a means for students to begin developing contacts within the Muscle Shoals AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ from state to state, it may be beneficial to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be important to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to first investigate those schools that are within the Muscle Shoals AL region.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. Having said that, 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 also. Financial assistance might be accessible to help offset some of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Muscle Shoals AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Muscle Shoals AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making-up classes missed due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Muscle Shoals Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the ideal legal assistant certificate school is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Muscle Shoals home. Paralegal education programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Several kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you elect to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to evaluate each program and make your final selection. And with the right education you can achieve your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Muscle Shoals Alabama.