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How to Pick the Right Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Troy Alabama

Troy Alabama woman paralegal speaking with client on phoneCongratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Troy AL and start your journey that will lead to a gratifying career in legal services. However, it's important that you locate the best school so that you will get the comprehensive training that you require to succeed. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous options to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students begin by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Troy homes. 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 qualifiers you should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program ought to be considered also. Later on in this article we will cover a list of concerns that you ought to ask potential paralegal schools so that you can examine and compare every one before making your choice. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the educational options that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.

Legal Assistants and Paralegals

Troy Alabama legal books

Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both hold comparable job positions and functions, only with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job category. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Troy AL lawyers with a wide range of job duties, including 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 practice may help with trial logistics or transporting files to court. In private practices, the work of a paralegal is typically billed hourly as are the lawyer's. And the same as lawyers, they must conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be diverse in support of the firms where they work, but a few of their regular activities may include:

  • Investigating and fact checking cases
  • Researching pertinent laws and cases
  • Preparing correspondence and legal papers
  • Submitting legal documents with opposing counsel or the court
  • Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and keep organized with their cases
  • Organizing and maintaining legal files, documents and additional records

With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is give legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not limited to administrative or clerical tasks more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants truly 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 number of cases or clients than they could alone.

Paralegal Education and Certification

Troy Alabama male paralegal speaking on phone taking notes

As we discussed earlier, paralegals are essentially the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and job prospects will be the same. The fastest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Troy AL is by obtaining a certificate, which can take as little as 6 months to complete. Most entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which furnish a more expansive education and may be acquired at numerous community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. Once you have acquired either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to proceed and receive a certification. Although it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to practice as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your job opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. Some 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 degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will address the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 important initial steps that will help ensure your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.

Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Programs

Troy Alabama woman student attending paralegal online classesOnline paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more common and can be an excellent option for individuals looking for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Troy AL students who continue to work while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an additional benefit, online classes can sometimes be less expensive than on campus options. Even supplementary expenditures for such things as study materials or commuting can be reduced or eliminated. One caveat, not all online schools are accredited, which we will address in more detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are reviewing are accredited by a respected agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal environment, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right option for you.

What to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs

Once you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what educational options are offered, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Troy AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you must know what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like the majority of prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously covered, there are other crucial factors to research also, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at a few of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can properly vet each one and make your ultimate decision.

Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you pick should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it may also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online education. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest quality, but it will show potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Troy AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial aid and student loans are often obtainable only for accredited programs.

What's the Program's Reputation? Research what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are new to the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you pick is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing 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 contact several Troy AL law practices that you may have an interest in working for after graduating and ask what schools they suggest. Bear in mind that even when a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.

Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law firm or other legal operation while still in school. They can also present an avenue for students to begin developing contacts within the Troy AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, specifically in areas of the law that you are most interested in entering after graduation.

Is Job Placement Help offered? You will undoubtedly wish to hit the ground running after graduation, but finding that first job in a new profession can be challenging without help. Find out if the paralegal programs you are reviewing have job assistance programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their students are highly regarded and sought after.

Where is the School Located? Considering that laws differ from one state to another, it may be beneficial to enroll in a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be important to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many require a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you might want to initially look at those schools that are within the Troy AL region.

How Much is the Entire Expense? Paralegal programs can vary in price based on the credential earned and the length of training furnished. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance might be accessible to help reduce some of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid office to see what is offered in Troy AL. Needless to say that 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 Accommodate your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while receiving their training and must have flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend weekend or evening classes near Troy AL, make certain classes are available at those times. Also, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make certain that the school you enroll in offers that option. Finally, inquire what the process is for making up missed classes as a result of sickness, work or family obligations.

Find Out More About Troy Paralegal Certificate Programs

Choose the Right Troy Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program

Selecting the right legal assistant certificate school is a crucial 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 comfort and privacy of your Troy residence. Paralegal education programs are made available in many lengths and formats. Various types of public and private institutions offer paralegal education, including junior and community colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as vocational and trade schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a profound impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, choose wisely. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But regardless 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 review each program and make your final decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Troy Alabama.


 

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