How to Pick the Right Paralegal 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 fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need 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 alternatives are being offered, both at school and online. However with so many alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Many potential students begin by searching for schools within driving distance of their Smiths Station residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when choosing a school, they are not the only factors you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school need to be considered too. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one before making your choice. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional 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 hold the same job roles and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist 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 practice where they are employed. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm may help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, a paralegal's work is typically billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the practices where they are employed, but some of their day-to-day tasks may involve:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and very demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is give 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. Paralegals really are the right hand support systems for lawyers. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to take on a much larger number of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Education and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the educational requirements and opportunities will be the same. The quickest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Smiths Station AL is by earning a certificate, which can require just 6 months to accomplish. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. Once you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may want to proceed and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help maximize your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded 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 certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will address 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.
Online Legal Assistant and Paralegal Classes
Online paralegal or legal assistant schools have become more prevalent and can be a good alternative for those searching for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly appealing to Smiths Station AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials can be reduced or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps ensure that the education you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Programs
Once you have a better idea about what paralegals do and what educational options are available, you can start the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Smiths Station AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to know what questions to ask in order to compare each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other significant issues to consider also, such as the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over some of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal Program Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you select need to be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency 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 targets online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will receive 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 assistance and student loans are usually available only for accredited programs.
What's the Reputation of the School? Research what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal schools you are contemplating. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to rely on the quality of your education exclusively. Verifying that the school you pick is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Smiths Station AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they recommend. Keep in mind that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal operation while remaining in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start establishing contacts within the Smiths Station AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly 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 interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good indication that the schools have substantial networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their graduates are highly regarded and sought after.
Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it may be a good idea to choose a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more justification to obtain your education in the area where you desire to work. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you may want to initially investigate those colleges that are within the Smiths Station AL area.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal schools can vary in price based on the credential obtained and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial assistance may be obtainable to help offset some of the cost, so don't forget to consult with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Smiths Station AL. Of course if you opt to attend an online program, a portion these additional expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Match your Schedule? A number of paralegal students keep working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Smiths Station AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you choose offers that option. Finally, find out what the procedure is for making up missed classes because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Smiths Station Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Choosing the best legal assistant degree school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Smiths Station home. Paralegal education programs are provided in various lengths and formats. Several types of private and public institutions provide paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But irrespective of how you decide to acquire your training and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have presented you will have the ability to assess each school and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career objective to become a successful paralegal in Smiths Station Alabama.