How to Pick the Right Paralegal Training Program Near Oxford Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Oxford AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's crucial that you find the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Some potential students begin by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Oxford homes. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program must be considered too. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically 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 are part of a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Oxford AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but some of their regular activities may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping lawyers prepare for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Education 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 opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Oxford AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more prevalent and may be an excellent alternative for students looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Oxford AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the school and program you are looking into are accredited by a reputable agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online could be the ideal option for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs available at junior and community colleges in the Oxford AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical factors to research also, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Oxford AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Oxford AL law offices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also present an avenue for students to start creating contacts within the Oxford AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws vary from one state to another, it may be a good idea to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. Also, it will be important to build relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you choose to work. 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 need to initially look at those schools that are within the Oxford AL area.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce some of the cost, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Oxford AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while obtaining their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Oxford AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making up classes missed because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Oxford Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right legal assistant training school is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Oxford residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you elect to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each school and make your final decision. And with the ideal education you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Oxford Alabama.