How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Selma Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Selma AL and begin your journey that will lead to a rewarding career in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students start by searching for schools within driving range of their Selma homes. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are necessary considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school should be taken into consideration too. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic choices that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both fill the same job roles and responsibilities, only with different titles. On the other hand, 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 Selma AL attorneys with a wide range of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or delivering files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but some of their daily tasks might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on relevant cases and laws
- Composing 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 documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be involved and rather challenging. However, 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 confined to administrative or clerical duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to manage a much larger number of clients or cases than they could on their own.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, 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 quickest means to begin your career as a legal assistant in Selma AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can require as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and may be obtained at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. After you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your career opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some 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 school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two important first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more available and can be an excellent option for students looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Selma AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a respected agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Selma AL area, in addition to trade and vocational 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 the majority of prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other critical factors to research as well, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal Training 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 program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Selma AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your training exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Selma AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could 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 remaining in school. They can also offer a means for students to begin developing contacts within the Selma AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Help provided? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but finding that initial job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ from state to state, it may be a good idea to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to develop relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to receive your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may need to first investigate those colleges that are within the Selma AL area.
What is the Total Cost? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your education. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be accessible to help offset part of the expense, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Selma AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online program, some of these additional expenses, for instance for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while getting their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Selma AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you choose makes available that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making up classes missed due to sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Selma Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the best paralegal certificate program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding 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 Selma home. Paralegal education programs are made available in various lengths and formats. Several kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you decide to receive your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to examine each school and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Selma Alabama.