How to Choose the Best Paralegal School Near Selma Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Selma AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by searching for schools within traveling distance of their Selma residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school must be considered also. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one prior to making your selection. But first, let's take 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
Legal assistants and paralegals basically both hold comparable job roles and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Selma AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are based upon the type of legal firm where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their routine tasks may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and quite demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers are able to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Selma AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can involve as little as six months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. After you have earned either a certificate or degree, you may choose 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 boost your employment opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly regarded certifying organizations 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more available and may be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Selma AL students who continue to work while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online classes can often be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a reputable agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online could be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs available at community and junior colleges in the Selma AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most potential 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 aspects to consider as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose should be accredited by a reputable 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 distance or online learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will show future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Selma AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically accessible 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 specific importance if you are new to the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you pick is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Selma AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also present a means for students to begin creating contacts within the Selma AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are evaluating provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary from state to state, it might be a good idea to choose a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to build relationships in the local legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to first consider those schools that are within the Selma AL area.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in price based on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help minimize part of the cost, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Selma AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students keep working while getting their training and require flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Selma AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you select provides that option. Last, ask what the process is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.
Choose the Best Selma Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal studies certificate school is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Selma home. Paralegal education programs are offered in many formats and lengths. Various types of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice 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, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each school and make your final selection. And with the right training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Selma Alabama.