How to Choose the Right Paralegal Training Program Near Selma Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Selma AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you need to be successful. As you probably understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic options 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 trying to find schools within commuting distance of their Selma residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things such as accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be considered also. Later in this post we will cover a list of questions that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your selection. But first, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available 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 are part of a different job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Selma AL lawyers with a wide range of job functions, such as maintaining client files, legal research, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may assist with trial logistics or delivering documents to court. In private firms, a paralegal's work is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As stated, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they are employed, but a few of their daily activities might include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. However, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Training 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 academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a legal assistant in Selma AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve just six months to complete. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. After you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might choose to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected certifying organizations 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 program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Training
Online legal assistant or paralegal programs have become more available and may be an excellent option for students looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Selma AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education 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 reputable organization, for example 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 ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational choices are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Selma AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant aspects to research as well, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School and Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest standard, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Many Selma AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn 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 profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your training exclusively. Verifying that the school you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact several Selma AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while still in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Selma AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will most likely want to secure employment quickly after graduating, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are considering 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 good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws vary from state to state, it might be a good idea to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be necessary to create relationships in the area legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the community where you choose to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially look at those colleges that are within the Selma AL region.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in cost depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your training. Remember to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid might be available to help offset part of the cost, so be sure to consult with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Selma AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these added expenses, such as for commuting, might be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Accommodate your Schedule? Numerous legal students keep working while receiving their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Selma AL, verify classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you enroll in provides that option. Finally, ask what the procedure is for making-up missed classes due to sickness, work or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Selma Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the right paralegal training program is a crucial first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Selma residence. Paralegal education programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Different kinds of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, 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 wide range in the quality of schools, choose carefully. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you elect to obtain your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to examine each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the ideal education you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Selma Alabama.