How to Find the Best Paralegal Studies Training Program Near Sylacauga Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Sylacauga AL and start your journey that will result in a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's essential that you find the ideal school so that you will get the extensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more academic options are being offered, both at school and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many prospective students start by looking for schools within driving range of their Sylacauga residences. Of those choices, they look for the program with the most affordable tuition. Although location and cost are necessary considerations when picking a college, they are not the only factors you ought to consider. Things like the reputation and accreditation of the school must be considered too. Later in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you need to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one before making your selection. But before we do, 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 for the most part both fill the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Sylacauga AL lawyers with a diverse array of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, drafting legal documents and communicating with clients. Their specific job functions 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 the logistics of a trial or transferring documents to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and adhere to a strict code of professional ethics. As stated, their responsibilities can be wide ranging in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their routine activities can include:
- Researching and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Drafting correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and preserving legal documents, files and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be involved and very demanding. However, what they are not legally authorized to do is offer legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical tasks more applicable to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys have the ability to handle a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could alone.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are basically the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to start your career as a legal assistant in Sylacauga AL is by earning a certificate, which can take as little as six months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more comprehensive education and can be earned at many community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. After you have obtained either a degree or a certificate, you might want to continue and receive a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some of the highly respected 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will cover the benefits of accreditation later) and obtaining a certification, you will have taken 2 essential first steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Training
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more prevalent and may be an excellent option for students searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online schools can be especially appealing to Sylacauga AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than on campus options. Even ancillary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at the very least accreditation helps guarantee that the education you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a respected organization, for example the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your degree or certificate online might be the right choice for you.
Questions to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training options are offered, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs accessible at community and junior colleges in the Sylacauga AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to learn what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly 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 already discussed, there are other important issues to research also, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you need to be asking the programs you are researching so that you can effectively vet each one and make your ultimate decision.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose 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 online or distance education. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Sylacauga AL law firms will only hire entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Also, financial assistance and student loans are often available only for accredited schools.
What's the Program's Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the paralegal programs you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are new to the profession with no previous work history, since employers will have to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Reviewing school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call a few Sylacauga AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even if a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program could still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs give students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal operation while still in school. They can also offer a pathway for students to start developing contacts within the Sylacauga AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering after graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance offered? You will undoubtedly want to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new field can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are interviewing have job assistance 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 substantiates that their students are well regarded and sought after.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary among states, it might be advantageous to enroll in a legal assistant school domiciled in Alabama or the state where you wish to work after graduating. Also, it will be necessary to build relationships in the local legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is even more reason to acquire your education in the area where you want 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 may need to first look at those colleges that are within the Sylacauga AL region.
What is the Entire Expense? Paralegal schools can vary in cost based on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your training. Don't forget to include the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid may be accessible to help minimize part of the cost, so make sure to check with the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Sylacauga AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online school, a portion these added costs, such as for commuting, might be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Classes Match your Schedule? Many legal students keep working while getting their training and require flexibility to schedule classes. If you can just attend night or weekend classes near Sylacauga AL, verify classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, confirm that the school you enroll in makes available that option. Finally, inquire what the protocol is for making up missed classes because of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Sylacauga Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Selecting the right legal assistant certificate program is an important first step to guarantee your success in the gratifying field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the choice of attending classes on campus or you can attend them online in the privacy and comfort of your Sylacauga home. Paralegal academic programs are provided in many formats and lengths. Different types of public and private institutions provide paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, in addition to trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But irrespective of how you decide to receive your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have provided you will be able to assess each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Sylacauga Alabama.