How to Choose the Best Paralegal School 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 profession in legal services. However, it's important that you find the best school so that you will receive 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 academic alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by looking for schools within commuting range of their Oneonta residences. 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 school, they are not the only qualifiers you must take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school must be taken into consideration too. Later in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your decision. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold the same job roles and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Oneonta AL attorneys with a diverse array of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their day-to-day tasks might include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative functions 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 ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a legal assistant in Oneonta AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to complete. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in 2 years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will discuss the benefits 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.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more available and may be an excellent alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Oneonta AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Oneonta AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. 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 previously discussed, there are other important factors to consider also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Oneonta AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Oneonta AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Oneonta AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws vary from state to state, it may be a good idea to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to initially consider those schools that are within the Oneonta AL region.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential earned and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help offset part of the expense, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Oneonta AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Oneonta AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you choose makes available that option. Last, inquire what the process is for making-up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Oneonta Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal studies training program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Oneonta home. Paralegal training programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Different kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you elect to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal training you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Oneonta Alabama.