How to Enroll in the Right Paralegal Certificate or Degree 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 rewarding career in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you probably know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students begin by looking for schools within traveling distance of their Smiths Station homes. Of those choices, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are important considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you should take into consideration. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the school ought to be taken into consideration too. Later on in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one prior to making your choice. But before we do, let's take a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic options that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
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 belong to a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Smiths Station AL lawyers with a wide range of job functions, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of practice where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice could assist with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high level of professionalism and abide by a strict standard of professional ethics. As noted, their duties can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their daily activities may include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Conducting research on related laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal documents, files and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complex and very challenging. However, what they are not legally permitted to do is provide 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 main support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals perhaps having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Smiths Station AL is by earning a certificate, which can take just six months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which offer a more extensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you may choose to proceed and obtain 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. Some of the highly respected certifying agencies 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 degree or certificate from an accredited program (we will address the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 important first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Courses
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more common and can be an excellent option for those looking for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially attractive to Smiths Station AL students who keep working while obtaining a degree. As an added advantage, online schools can sometimes be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain 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 organization, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online may be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the undertaking of evaluating schools. But because there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Smiths Station AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other important aspects to consider as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the schools you are considering so that you can effectively vet each one and make your final selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick need to be accredited by a respected organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Smiths Station AL law firms will only employ entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited programs.
What's the Program's Reputation? Learn what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal schools you are looking at. 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 quality of your education exclusively. Confirming that the program you choose is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact some Smiths Station AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Bear in mind that even though a school is not among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Offer Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal establishment while remaining in school. They can also provide an avenue for students to begin establishing contacts within the Smiths Station AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering provide internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance provided? You will undoubtedly want to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out 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 indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it may be advantageous to choose a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to cultivate relationships in the local legal community, perhaps by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to receive your education in the community where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, most require a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may wish to first investigate those schools that are within the Smiths Station AL region.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential received and the amount of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Remember to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be obtainable to help minimize part of the expense, so make sure to contact the school's financial aid department to see what is available in Smiths Station AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Smiths Station AL, verify classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose makes available that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making-up missed classes due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Smiths Station Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal degree program is an essential first step toward your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Smiths Station home. Paralegal academic programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Different types of public and private institutions make available paralegal education, including community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a wide range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless of how you choose to receive your training and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to evaluate each school and make your ultimate selection. And with the right training you can achieve your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Smiths Station Alabama.