How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies Course Near Oxford Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Oxford AL and start your journey that will result in a satisfying career 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 be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational alternatives are being offered, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Oxford residences. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program need to be taken into account as well. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one before making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly 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 for the most part 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 different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Oxford AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or transporting documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their routine activities may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand 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 cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically 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 fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Oxford AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Courses
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more popular and may be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Oxford AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online may be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Oxford AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial aspects to consider as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some 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 Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a respected 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 focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Oxford AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often offered only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, 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 Oxford AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Oxford AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will probably want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it may be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the area where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially consider those schools that are within the Oxford AL region.
How Much is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential earned and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be available to help reduce some of the cost, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Oxford AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, a portion these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Oxford AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the program you choose provides that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making up missed classes because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Oxford Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies certificate school is an essential first step to guarantee 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 Oxford residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Various kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each program and make your final selection. And with the ideal training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Oxford Alabama.