How to Choose the Best Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Ozark Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Ozark AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying profession in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you need to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many prospective students begin by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Ozark homes. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you ought to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school must be taken into consideration also. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Ozark AL lawyers with a wide range of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might assist with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their regular activities may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on applicable cases and laws
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and rather demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative functions more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Education 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 educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to start your career as a paralegal in Ozark AL is by earning a certificate, which may take as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are available also. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you might choose to continue 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 substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected 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 school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more popular and can be an excellent alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Ozark AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online schools can sometimes be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs available at junior and community colleges in the Ozark AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other critical issues to research as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Ozark AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Ozark AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what 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 Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while still in school. They can also offer a means for students to start developing contacts within the Ozark AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Because laws differ among states, it might be beneficial to enroll in a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially consider those colleges that are within the Ozark AL area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost based on the credential received and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance might be available to help minimize some of the cost, so make sure to talk to the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Ozark AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, some of these added expenses, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Ozark AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you choose provides that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Ozark Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the best paralegal degree program is an important first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Ozark home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in various lengths and formats. Different kinds of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a pronounced influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a wide range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to obtain your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to assess each program and make your final decision. And with the ideal training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Ozark Alabama.