How to Find the Right Paralegal Studies Degree 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 rewarding profession in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic options are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by searching for schools within driving range of their Muscle Shoals residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you ought to consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school should be considered also. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Muscle Shoals AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their day-to-day activities may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Muscle Shoals AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve just six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be earned at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more common and may be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Muscle Shoals AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online programs can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials may be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Muscle Shoals AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important aspects to research also, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential 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 school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished 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 practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while attending school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Muscle Shoals AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ among states, 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 graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to acquire your education in the community where you desire 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 might wish to first investigate those colleges that are within the Muscle Shoals AL area.
What is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be available to help minimize some of the cost, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Muscle Shoals AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Muscle Shoals AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you choose makes available that option. Last, find out what the protocol is for making up missed classes due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Muscle Shoals Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the ideal legal assistant training program is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Muscle Shoals home. Paralegal training programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Different types of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you decide to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the right training you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Muscle Shoals Alabama.