How to Select the Best Paralegal Training Program Near Smiths Station Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Smiths Station AL and begin your journey that will result in a gratifying profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the right school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you probably understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? A number of potential students start by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Smiths Station residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program should be considered also. Later on in this post we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare each one before making your choice. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, 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 assist Smiths Station AL lawyers with a wide variety of job functions, including maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are based upon the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with the logistics of a trial or transporting files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their routine activities may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with opposing counsel or the court
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be complex and rather challenging. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not restricted to administrative or clerical duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to handle a much larger volume of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to begin your career as a paralegal in Smiths Station AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. After you have acquired 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 can not only help maximize your career 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 cover the advantages of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken two crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Paralegal and legal assistant online schools have become more available and may be an excellent alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Smiths Station AL students who keep working while earning a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online programs can often be less costly than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are looking into are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and conventional environment, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Studies Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But since there are numerous programs accessible at junior and community colleges in the Smiths Station AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs also. If you are like most prospective students, you will begin by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial issues to research as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are considering so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final decision.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency 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 certify 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 Smiths Station AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no prior work history, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the program you select is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished 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 firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an excellent reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students an opportunity to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also present an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Smiths Station AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are considering offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will probably wish to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that first job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws differ among states, it may be advantageous to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduation. In addition, it will be important to cultivate relationships in the area legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might need to initially look at those schools that are within the Smiths Station AL area.
What is the Entire Cost? Paralegal programs can vary in price depending on the credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be accessible to help minimize some of the cost, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Smiths Station AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while obtaining their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Smiths Station AL, make certain classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you enroll in offers that option. Last, inquire what the procedure is for making up classes missed as a result of sickness, work or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Smiths Station Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal studies certificate program is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Smiths Station home. Paralegal academic programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Various kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this exciting profession. But no matter how you choose to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to review each program and make your final decision. And with the right training you can accomplish your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Smiths Station Alabama.