How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Training Program Near Muscle Shoals Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Muscle Shoals 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 get the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students begin by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Muscle Shoals homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program must be considered too. Later in this article we will review a list of concerns that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your selection. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as 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, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is usually billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their everyday activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a paralegal in Muscle Shoals AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may take just six months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. Once you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and receive a certification. Although 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. Some of the highly regarded 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Certificates and Degrees
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more available and may be an excellent alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Muscle Shoals AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can often be less costly than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online 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 caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a respected agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the ideal choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Muscle Shoals AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you add 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 already discussed, there are other crucial aspects to research also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Numerous Muscle Shoals AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call some Muscle Shoals AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even if a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while still in school. They can also present a pathway for students to start establishing contacts within the Muscle Shoals AL legal field. 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 provided? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent indication 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 School Located? Because laws differ among states, it may be beneficial to choose a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. In addition, it will be important to establish relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to first investigate those colleges that are within the Muscle Shoals AL area.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price based on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure 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 minimize part of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Muscle Shoals AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Muscle Shoals AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the school you choose provides that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Muscle Shoals Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal certificate school is a crucial first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Muscle Shoals home. Paralegal education programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact 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 greatest possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you decide to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to examine each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Muscle Shoals Alabama.