How to Select the Best Paralegal Degree Program Near Ozark Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Ozark AL and begin your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students begin by searching for schools within commuting distance of their Ozark homes. Of those alternatives, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into consideration too. Later on in this post we will cover a list of concerns that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants 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 are part of a separate job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Ozark AL attorneys with a wide variety of job duties, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, 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 abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but some of their everyday activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and very 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 clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Ozark AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be earned at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. Once you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will discuss the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more common and can be a good alternative for individuals looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Ozark AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online classes can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more 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 instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can begin the process of assessing schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Ozark AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most 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 as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at 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 final decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected 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 targets distance or online training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Ozark AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Research 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 field with no previous experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Ozark AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Ozark AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal schools you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new field can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws differ among states, it might be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. Also, it will be necessary to create relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially look at those schools that are within the Ozark AL region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be accessible to help minimize some of the cost, so don't forget to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Ozark AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online school, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many legal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Ozark AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you select offers that option. Last, ask what the procedure is for making-up missed classes due to work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Ozark Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right paralegal certificate school is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Ozark home. Paralegal training programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Different types of private and public institutions offer paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to review each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right education you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Ozark Alabama.