How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Program Near Rainsville Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Rainsville AL and begin your journey that will result in a fulfilling career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you locate the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students start by trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Rainsville homes. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you must consider. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be taken into account also. Later in this article we will cover a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job roles and functions, 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 Rainsville AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of practice where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with the logistics of a trial or transferring files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney'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 work, but some of their regular tasks may include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping lawyers get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative duties more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Rainsville AL is by earning a certificate, which can require just 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which offer 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 obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and earn a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help improve your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few 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 school (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Paralegal and legal assistant online programs have become more available and can be an excellent option for students looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Rainsville AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an added benefit, online programs can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Schools
Once you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Rainsville AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial issues to think about as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose should be accredited by a reputable organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Rainsville AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call some Rainsville AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present a means for students to start developing contacts within the Rainsville AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are reviewing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without support. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are a good sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws differ from one state to another, it may be advantageous to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the area where you choose to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might wish to first investigate those schools that are within the Rainsville AL area.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost depending on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be available to help reduce part of the cost, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Rainsville AL. Needless to say that if you choose to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Rainsville AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the program you select offers that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Rainsville Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the right legal assistant certificate school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Rainsville home. Paralegal education programs are provided in numerous formats and lengths. Several types of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Given that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the greatest possible opportunity to be successful in this exciting profession. But irrespective of how you choose to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to examine each program and make your ultimate selection. And with the right education you can realize your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Rainsville Alabama.