How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies Program Near Oxford Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Oxford AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students begin by looking for schools within commuting range of their Oxford residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program must be taken into consideration too. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Oxford AL attorneys with a diverse array of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might help with the logistics of a trial or delivering files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their everyday activities may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite 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 functions more suited 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, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a paralegal in Oxford AL is by earning a certificate, which can take just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. Once you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may 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 employment 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two essential initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Training
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more available and can be an excellent alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Oxford AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Since you now you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Oxford AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will begin by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other crucial issues to consider as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program 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 targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Oxford AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Oxford AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Oxford AL legal field. Find out 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 Assistance provided? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent 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 Located? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it might be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to build relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first investigate those colleges that are within the Oxford AL region.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be available to help offset part of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Oxford AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students keep working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Oxford AL, make sure 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 provides that option. Finally, inquire what the procedure is for making up classes missed because of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Oxford Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal training program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Oxford residence. Paralegal academic programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade 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. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you choose to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to review each school and make your final decision. And with the right education you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Oxford Alabama.