How to Find the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Oneonta Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Oneonta AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students start by looking for schools within traveling range of their Oneonta homes. Of those choices, they look for 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 should take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into account too. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your decision. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Oneonta AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their day-to-day activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs 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 academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Oneonta AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded 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 school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more common and can be a good option for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Oneonta AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Oneonta AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many 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, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Oneonta AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the School? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Oneonta AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start establishing contacts within the Oneonta AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it may be beneficial to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to first look at those schools that are within the Oneonta AL region.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential received and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may 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 available in Oneonta AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these additional costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Oneonta AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you choose makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Oneonta Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the right legal assistant training program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Oneonta residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you elect to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to assess each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the right training you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Oneonta Alabama.