How to Choose the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Smiths Station Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Smiths Station AL and start your journey that will lead to a satisfying career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you locate the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of educational choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. But with so many options to choose from, where does one start? Some prospective students start by trying to find schools within commuting range of their Smiths Station residences. Of those choices, they search for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the program must be considered as well. Later on in this post we will review a list of concerns that you should ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare each one before making your decision. But first, let's have a look at what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Smiths Station AL attorneys with a wide range of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm might help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their everyday activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on pertinent cases and laws
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal action. But they are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly are the main support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to handle a much larger number of cases or clients than they could on their own.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually 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 quickest way to begin your career as a legal assistant in Smiths Station AL is by earning a certificate, which may involve just 6 months to accomplish. Most entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more expansive education and can be earned at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are an option as well. When you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might want to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help boost your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Certificates and Degrees
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more common and can be a good option for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online schools can be particularly attractive to Smiths Station AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online schools can in some cases be less costly than more traditional options. Even secondary expenditures for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the school and program you are considering are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Schools
Since you now you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But since there are so many programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Smiths Station AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must find out what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like most potential students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other crucial aspects to think about as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you need to be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online training. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will establish with potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Smiths Station AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial assistance and student loans are typically offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Smiths Station AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Keep in mind that even though a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an excellent reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also provide a pathway for students to start creating contacts within the Smiths Station AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduating, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have substantial networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Since laws differ from one state to another, it might be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be important to establish relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more justification to receive your education in the area where you wish to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to first consider those colleges that are within the Smiths Station AL area.
How Much is the Total Expense? Paralegal programs can differ in price depending on the credential received and the amount of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Remember to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be accessible to help minimize some of the cost, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Smiths Station AL. Naturally if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these added costs, for instance for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Numerous legal students continue working while getting their training and must have flexibility in class scheduling. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Smiths Station 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 offers that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making-up classes missed as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Smiths Station Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the right paralegal certificate school is an important first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus 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 kinds of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school 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. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you choose to acquire your education 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 appropriate training you can achieve your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Smiths Station Alabama.