How to Select the Right Paralegal Studies Degree Program Near Oxford Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Oxford AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. However, it's crucial 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 one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are becoming available, both at school 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 driving distance of their Oxford residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are very important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program need to be taken into account too. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your decision. But first, 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.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job positions and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Oxford AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. 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 normally billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their everyday activities might involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted 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 tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Oxford AL is by earning 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 numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available as well. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and earn a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your employment opportunities, but help substantiate 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 program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help guarantee 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 common and can be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Oxford AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online programs can often be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a reputable organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online might be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Oxford AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must 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 also. If you are like the majority of potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other important factors to research as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can 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 training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Oxford AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically available only for accredited programs.
What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Oxford AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even if a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while attending school. They can also offer a means for students to start developing contacts within the Oxford AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it may be a good idea to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to build relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to obtain your education in the community where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may want to first look at those colleges that are within the Oxford AL area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be available to help reduce some of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to see what is offered in Oxford AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just 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 certain that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Oxford Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the ideal paralegal degree program is a vital first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Oxford residence. Paralegal academic programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Different kinds of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this exciting profession. But regardless of how you elect to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Oxford Alabama.