How to Choose the Best Paralegal Course Near Smiths Station Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Smiths Station AL and begin your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you find the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous options to choose from, where does one start? A number of potential students start by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Smiths Station residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only factors you ought to consider. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the program should be taken into consideration also. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the educational options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Legal assistants and paralegals for the most part both hold the same job roles and responsibilities, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals help Smiths Station AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job duties are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could help with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed by the hour as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they are employed, but a few of their daily tasks can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not confined to clerical or administrative tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases 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. As a result, for either position the educational prerequisites and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to start your career as a paralegal in Smiths Station AL is by earning a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and may be obtained at numerous 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. When you have earned either a certificate or degree, you might choose to proceed and earn a certification. Although it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your employment 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 essential initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Schools
Legal assistant and paralegal online schools have become more common and may be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Smiths Station AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you receive 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 dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal environment, then earning your degree or certificate online may be the ideal choice for you.
Things to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Smiths Station AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. 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 already discussed, there are other crucial aspects to research as well, including the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional also. A number of Smiths Station AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited program. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Find out what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help determine school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also call several Smiths Station AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Remember that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin creating contacts within the Smiths Station AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will most likely wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be difficult without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws vary from state to state, it might be advantageous to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduation. In addition, it will be valuable to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, perhaps through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the area where you desire to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might need to first investigate those schools that are within the Smiths Station AL area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be available to help reduce part of the expense, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to find out what is offered in Smiths Station AL. Naturally if you decide to attend an online school, a portion these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while obtaining their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend weekend or evening classes near Smiths Station AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the school you choose offers that option. Finally, ask what the protocol is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Smiths Station Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best legal assistant training school is an important first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Smiths Station home. Paralegal training programs are offered in many lengths and formats. Various types of private and public institutions make available 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 pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible chance to be successful in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you decide to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to examine each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the ideal education you can realize your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Smiths Station Alabama.