How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Sylacauga Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Sylacauga AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's important that you find the ideal school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to be successful. As you most likely know, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and a growing number of academic choices are being offered, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? A number of prospective students start by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Sylacauga residences. Of those choices, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when selecting a school, they are not the only qualifiers you ought to take into consideration. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school need to be considered too. Later on in this post we will cover a list of questions that you ought to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your selection. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold the same job positions and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a separate job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants help Sylacauga AL lawyers with a wide variety of job duties, including legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their particular job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. As an example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may help with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is usually billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and abide by a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the firms where they work, but some of their day-to-day activities can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching applicable laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their duties, the role of a paralegal can be involved and very challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative tasks more applicable 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 preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to manage a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we previously covered, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to start your career as a paralegal in Sylacauga AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take just six months to complete. Many entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and may be earned at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. Once you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification may not only help improve your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly regarded 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 certificate or degree from an accredited program (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more available and can be an excellent alternative for those looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Sylacauga AL students who keep working while earning a degree. As an added advantage, online programs can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as commuting or study materials may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will cover in greater 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 thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online could be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better understanding regarding what paralegals do and what training choices are available, you can begin the undertaking of assessing schools. But because there are so many programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Sylacauga AL area, as well as vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true when you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already discussed, there are other significant factors to research as well, including accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are investigating so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you choose should be accredited by a recognized organization such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the education you will obtain will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional also. Many Sylacauga AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are usually offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Learn what the reputations and rankings are for the legal assistant programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the profession with no prior experience, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your training exclusively. Checking that the program you select is accredited is a good 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 several Sylacauga AL law firms 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 among the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could 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 establishment while remaining in school. They can also offer an avenue for students to start developing contacts within the Sylacauga AL legal field. Find out if the paralegal schools you are assessing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without assistance. Ask if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the Campus Located? Because laws vary from one state to another, it might be advantageous to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you want to work after graduation. Also, it will be valuable to establish relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more reason to obtain your education in the area where you wish to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to first consider those colleges that are within the Sylacauga AL area.
How Much is the Total Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost based on the credential earned and the amount of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be available to help reduce part of the cost, so be sure to contact the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Sylacauga AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online school, some of these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Numerous paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Sylacauga AL, make sure classes are available at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make sure that the program you enroll in provides that option. Finally, ask what the process is for making up classes missed because of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Best Sylacauga Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Selecting the ideal paralegal certificate school is an essential first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this article, you have the option of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Sylacauga residence. Paralegal training programs are offered in numerous formats and lengths. Different types of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your prospects for success in your new career. Given that there is a wide range in the quality of programs, choose wisely. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you decide to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have presented you will be able to evaluate each program and make your final selection. And with the ideal training you can accomplish your career objective to become a practicing paralegal in Sylacauga Alabama.