How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Studies Course Near Muscle Shoals Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Muscle Shoals AL and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by searching for schools within traveling distance of their Muscle Shoals homes. Of those options, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when selecting a college, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be taken into account as well. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your selection. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Muscle Shoals AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their daily tasks can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complicated and very demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites 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 involve just six months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few 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 cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more popular and may be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Muscle Shoals AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online programs can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional environment, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Muscle Shoals AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to 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 the majority of potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical issues to research also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in need to be accredited by a highly regarded organization 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 education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Muscle Shoals AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Muscle Shoals AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor 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 provide a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Muscle Shoals AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws vary among states, it may be beneficial to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be valuable to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may wish to first look at those colleges that are within the Muscle Shoals AL area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential received and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be available to help offset some of the expense, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Muscle Shoals AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Muscle Shoals AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you enroll in offers that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Muscle Shoals Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the ideal legal assistant certificate school is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Muscle Shoals residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Various kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to acquire your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to assess each school and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Muscle Shoals Alabama.