How to Enroll in the Best Paralegal Program Near Oneonta Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Oneonta AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students start by looking for schools within commuting range of their Oneonta homes. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program must be taken into account too. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your decision. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both fill the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Oneonta AL lawyers with a wide range of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their regular tasks can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more suited 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 volume of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Oneonta AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more prevalent and may be a good alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially attractive to Oneonta AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online schools can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Oneonta AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other important aspects to research as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get 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 obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Oneonta AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are usually accessible only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the program you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few 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 the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while still in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin establishing contacts within the Oneonta AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary among states, it might be advantageous to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially look at those colleges that are within the Oneonta AL region.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help offset some of the cost, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Oneonta AL. Needless to say that if you opt to attend an online program, some of these additional costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Oneonta AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose makes available that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making up classes missed because of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Oneonta Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right legal assistant training program is an essential first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed 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 Oneonta home. Paralegal education programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Various kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you elect to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to examine each program and make your final decision. And with the ideal training you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Oneonta Alabama.