How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies School 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 rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are becoming available, both at school and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by trying to find schools within traveling range of their Ozark homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are very important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you must consider. Things like 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 need to ask prospective 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 exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Paralegals and legal assistants for the most part both hold the same job roles and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Ozark AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually 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 standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their daily activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers are able to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Ozark AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may require as little as six months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and get a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few 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 discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Courses
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more common and can be an excellent option for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Ozark AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online programs can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional setting, then earning your degree or certificate online might be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Colleges
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating 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 need to find out what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like most prospective 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 critical factors to research also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over a few of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Ozark AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of special importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Ozark AL law practices 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 among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students an opportunity to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Ozark AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal schools you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that first job in a new field can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from one state to another, it may be advantageous to select a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduation. In addition, it will be important to develop relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might wish to initially investigate those schools that are within the Ozark AL area.
How Much is the Entire Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the length 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 as well. Financial aid might be accessible to help minimize some of the cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Ozark AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, some of these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Ozark AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you choose makes available that option. Last, inquire what the protocol is for making-up classes missed because of sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Ozark Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right paralegal studies degree 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 on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Ozark home. Paralegal training programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Various kinds of private and public institutions provide paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But no matter how you choose to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to review each school and make your final selection. And with the right training you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Ozark Alabama.