How to Pick the Best Paralegal Certificate 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 lead to a rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational alternatives are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by looking for schools within driving distance of their Muscle Shoals residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school need to be taken into consideration also. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Muscle Shoals AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but some of their regular activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping 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 job of a paralegal can be involved and very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because 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 on their own.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably 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 launch your career as a paralegal in Muscle Shoals AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve just 6 months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be earned at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded 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 address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more popular and may be a good option for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Muscle Shoals AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Muscle Shoals AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other crucial aspects to consider as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you select should be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also get 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 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 are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often offered only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Muscle Shoals AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Muscle Shoals AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it may be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require 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 Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might 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 Muscle Shoals AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online program, some of these added costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Muscle Shoals AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you select provides that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Muscle Shoals Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right legal assistant training program is an important 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 participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Muscle Shoals home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you decide to acquire your training 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 final decision. And with the right education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Muscle Shoals Alabama.