How to Select the Right Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program Near Princeton Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Princeton AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. But with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students start by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Princeton residences. Of those alternatives, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into consideration also. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your decision. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold comparable job positions and functions, only 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 assist Princeton AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their day-to-day activities may involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be involved and very challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to administrative or clerical functions more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Princeton AL is by obtaining a certificate, which may involve just six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you may want to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly regarded certifying agencies 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 address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more prevalent and may be an excellent alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Princeton AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can in some cases be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But since there are numerous programs available at community and junior colleges in the Princeton AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant factors to consider also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in need to be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Princeton AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the profession with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact some Princeton AL law firms that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Princeton AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will most likely want to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good indication that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws differ from one state to another, it may be beneficial to select a paralegal school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to build relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to initially investigate those schools that are within the Princeton AL region.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be accessible to help minimize part of the expense, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Princeton AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Princeton 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 makes available that option. Last, ask what the process is for making-up missed classes due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Princeton Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right legal assistant certificate program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Princeton residence. Paralegal education programs are offered in various formats and lengths. Different types of public and private institutions provide paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you choose to obtain your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will have the ability to examine each school and make your final decision. And with the right education you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Princeton Alabama.